Self-Care Challenge (Day 294): Buying Coffee for a Stranger

heart-shaped froth on a cappucino

On day 294 of my 366-day self-care challenge, I bought coffee for a stranger.

One day while shopping at a Hobby Lobby in Texas, a woman ahead of me in line at the checkout was excitedly telling the cashier about her plans to make holiday gifts with the supplies she was buying. She was positive and enthusiastic, and I couldn’t help but feel energized by her.

But when the total for the items in her cart appeared on the screen, her upbeat spirit plummeted. She timidly explained to the cashier that she didn’t have enough money, and asked if she could have the items held aside until she could return in a few days with the money. Embarrassed, she walked out of the store empty-handed. I felt deflated by what I had just seen, and I quickly pushed my cart forward to pay for her items before the cashier canceled the transaction.

In the coming days, I found myself smiling occasionally, imagining the woman returning to find that someone had cared enough to step in on her behalf. A random stranger.

Of course, I’m fully aware that it’s possible the woman never returned at all. Maybe she never received the items and didn’t make any holiday gifts whatsoever. Or perhaps a store employee misplaced the bag, or forgot to pass along the message that the items had already been paid for. I get it.

That isn’t the point.

The point is that I had an opportunity to help a stranger, and the cashier was given an opportunity to be part of it. If nothing else, perhaps the cashier will feel inspired to do something similar for someone in the future.

While paying it forward is sometimes nothing more than a cliché, random acts of kindness are also random acts of self-care. They help us maintain positive energy and express kindness rather than simply thinking about it.

Yesterday, after paying for my coffee at a local bookstore, I handed the cashier a five-dollar bill and asked that she apply it to the next person’s order. She agreed and I found a seat nearby to begin leafing through a book that I picked up on my way in to order coffee.

After a couple of minutes, I overheard the cashier explaining to another employee what I had asked her to do. I couldn’t hear their entire conversation, but I did make out “this can be tricky” and “let’s keep this between us.”

Evidently, this kind of gesture wasn’t as common as I had thought.

I watched as several people ordered coffee, but it wasn’t clear whether my donation was ever put to use. Maybe my good deed only made things more complicated for the cashier. I mean, what happens if someone’s order is less than five dollars? Does that person get the change back or should the remainder be applied to the next person’s purchase? And what happens if someone’s order is more than five dollars? Can the register transact two separate payments easily?

Clearly, I hadn’t thought it through completely.

My lesson here isn’t to stop giving, but to instead to inquire first about the best ways to give in the future. (I learned a similar lesson from a previous experience.)

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