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

heart-shaped froth on a cappucino

One day while shopping at a Hobby Lobby in Texas, the 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 funds to pay for them. Embarrassed, she walked out of the store empty-handed.

I felt deflated by what I had just witnessed, and I quickly pushed my cart forward to pay for the 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 received the items. Perhaps a store employee misplaced the bag, or forgot to pass along the message that it had already been paid for. Or maybe the woman never returned at all.

That isn’t the point.

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

While “paying it forward” is sometimes nothing more than a cliché, these 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 I had snagged 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.

In the time that I was there, several people ordered coffee, but it wasn’t clear whether my donation was ever put to use. Perhaps I just made the process of buying coffee more complicated for the cashier. 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.

My lesson here isn’t to stop giving, but to instead inquire about the best ways to give in the future. (You would have thought I had already learned this lesson from a previous experience.) Perhaps a gift card would be better.

But no matter what, let’s keep giving.

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