Have you ever received or given an act of random kindness?
“Christmas is a magic time,” or so the merchants want you to believe. For Christians, the day is the celebration of the savior's birth, yet all the churches are closed to not interfere with the Christmas morning orgy of gift opening. The closest we get to religious observation is midnight mass which for the most part has been rescheduled to 10 PM.
I have always been displeased with the falsity of the whole thing. One year I chose to engage in my own version of Christmas giving. I told no one. In fact, on this page, I am revealing the story for the first and only time.
A few days after Thanksgiving, I purchased three simple Christmas greeting cards — just “Merry Christmas” on the front and blank inside. From my bank, I obtained three crisp new one-hundred-dollar bills. On the blank inside of the cards, I scribed this simple message:
Please pay it forward.”
I inserted one of the bills in each card, put them in their bright red or green envelopes, and sealed them, leaving the front of the envelope blank.
On the three Saturdays before Christmas, I carried out my plan. I drove to the parking lot of a nearby Kmart. For those of you who don't know, think Walmart for really poor people. I parked away from the close-in cluster of cars but near enough to observe the foot traffic to and from the store.
The first Saturday, I sat for over an hour making judgments about the people walking into the store. Try that sometime as a humbling exercise in “Who do I think I am.” It got easier on the second and third Saturdays.
Eventually, I made my selection — nothing scientific, just a visual observation of a few seconds from several yards away. When my 'selectee' was safely inside the store, I walked to their automobile and placed the envelope under the driver's side windshield wiper. I returned to my car and waited for them to return to be sure the envelope was not picked off by someone else. When I was sure the envelope was in the hands of the intended recipient, I left.
To this day, I do not know the results of those events. How many 'paid it forward'? Has this replicated a thousand times? Did this gift precipitate family squabbles? Did I start any new family traditions? Wouldn't that be wonderful?
Giving a gift to a stranger with no knowledge of the results was a refreshing experience, and speculating on the outcome has given me pleasure over the many years since.