‘Tis the season for busy lines at check out registers.
I arrived at the single check out line at the same time as another shopper. She looked tired and grumpy, her cart overflowing. And no, I checked, I wasn’t looking into a mirror. This was an entirely different tired, grumpy woman.
Our eyes met, we looked at our items. Her cart was full and I was only holding three things. With a world weary sigh, she gestured ahead of us. “You might as well go first.”
I wanted to go first. I was actually in a hurry. I knew, however, that I wouldn’t feel good about going first. Offering her a very half-hearted smile I shrugged. “You go ahead.”
She didn’t argue. She pulled ahead of me and took her place in line.
After a few minutes, she turned back to me and said, “Hey, do you have the coupons?”
When I told her I did not, she handed me her coupons. “I don’t need them this time. You should go ahead and use them.”
This was a nice moment. We both smiled and exchanged pleasantries. It dawned on me that I was experiencing immediate positive karma for insisting the woman with more items go first even though I was in a hurry. It feels like cheating to do even the smallest polite thing and be immediately rewarded for it.
My all-time favorite TV show taught me this lesson a long time ago:
Our society celebrates and encourages random acts of kindness. This includes me, because what is more fun than surprising someone with a good deed?
But what if kindness isn’t really random?
What if kindness, like anything else, has to be practiced and nurtured and learned via rote exercises, like training our bodies to ice skate or run?
On a recent Monday morning, I was in the drive thru lane at McDonald’s. Mama does not do Monday morning without an iced coffee. There were two ordering lanes and then the lanes merged at the pay window.
I’ve been doing this successfully for many years. On this morning, I noticed the woman behind me sticking her head out of her window, gesturing wildly and yelling something. Alarmed (and naive), I rolled my window down, stuck my head out and said, “I’m sorry, what?”
She was taken aback and stunned into momentary silence. Then, she started speaking again. Apparently, she was gesturing and yelling because, in her mind, I pulled ahead of her and she should have been the next person to pull ahead. And this was reason enough to have a full-on, grown person, tantrum in the McDonald’s drive thru. I might have cut her off. I don’t think I did, but, either way… her response seemed excessive. In the heat of the moment, my only response was to stare back at her in stunned silence and then slowly pull my head back in and roll up my window.
A part of me wanted to “snap back” at this woman for bum rushing her way into my morning. But, remember in Ghostbusters II how negativity and anger feed the slime and make it multiply? What’s that? Well, I can’t help if if you don’t take your life lesson from the Ghostbusters movies! One of the MANY things I learned from those nerds was this: Hate breeds hate. Anger breeds anger.
This encounter made me feel really crappy. What a bummer of a way to kick off a Monday. I messaged with a few friends so they would feel sorry for me and I was overcome with a huge sense of sympathy for this woman. It must be so hard to go through life waiting for the next thing to be offended by. My good friend Spicy and her husband Dr. ‘Dre have a saying they use for difficult/ungrateful/argumentative people they encounter: “I hope you are happy sometimes.”
That is how I felt about Raging McDonald’s Lady. She didn’t just put a damper on my Monday, though. She put a damper on my iced coffee habit.
The next time I was at that McDonald’s, I looked around for her vehicle as I pulled through the drive. I let out a sigh of relief when I reached the window. The employee working the register leaned out and, with a smile, informed me the person ahead of me paid for my breakfast.
I was the recipient of a random act of kindness! It felt amazing! And, like an idiot, I just said “Thanks!” and pulled forward. It dawned on me about five minutes later that I should have paid for the person behind me.
The next time I was there, I had a plan to commit a random act of kindness (I would argue it isn’t so “random” when you make a strategic plan to commit it). When I pulled up to the window, I was prepared to pay for my order and the person behind me.
The cashier leaned out and smiled. “The person several cars ahead asked to pay for the next five cars so you’re covered.”
Something special was going on at this McDonald’s.
I started to pull forward and stopped myself. “Hey, is the person behind me covered as well?”
When I was informed that they were not, I paid for the couple behind me. A big, burly flannel man and his beautiful wife stuck their arms out of their truck windows to wave their thanks.
It felt great.
Now, at least once a month, I try to pay for the order behind me at the drive thru. It is not uncommon for me to have my own order covered by someone else either.
I don’t associate McDonald’s or my iced coffee with the Monday Morning Rage Machine. I associate it with the kindness of strangers.
Maybe it’s important to do both.
We have to do the planned-out things. Donate to the food bank. Volunteer at a shelter. Write a check to a cause we believe in.
We also have to make the right in-the-moment choices. Be kind when we’d rather be grumpy. Be patient when we’re in a hurry.
Mother Teresa boiled things down like this:
Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing […] Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.