I went to McDonald’s the other day.
I know, I know — “We have food at home” —but I was hungry and tired. Don’t judge me.
At any rate, after I placed my order, negotiated the merge between the two drive-through lines and arrived at the window, I was greeted with a pleasant surprise.
“The people ahead of you paid for your order,” said the fresh-faced teen manning the register.
Say what, now?
“They already paid for your order.”
This took a moment to sink in. I studied the rear of the vehicle ahead of me, trying to figure out if I knew who these people were.
I still have no clue. Best as I could determine before they drove off, complete strangers fed me.
While all this was playing through my head, I was holding up the line. Still buoyed by a sense of wonderment, I asked the cashier one question — “What about the people behind me? Can I pay for them?”
It didn’t hit me until later, but I sort of got lucky. It could have been a soccer team back there or a car full of teenage boys. They can eat. Trust me, I was one.
At any rate, I paid for the people behind me, then pulled up to the second window, where another fresh-faced teen, this one appearing a little bored, handed me my order.
“You paid for the people behind you, right?”
I guess they see this kind of thing fairly often, or at least often enough that it’s no longer confusing or a big deal.
It was a big deal to me. This simple act gave me an emotional boost and left me wondering who these kind people were. It also saved me about $3, but that’s not the important thing here.
I don’t know if the people ahead of me were the first or just another in a string of paying it forward, but I hope their decision —and mine — set off a chain reaction back down the line.
It works in other places, as well. Every time I walk to the coffee shop, I reach a corner at the same time as a car on the street. Having spent so much time working in the city, I automatically wait, only to have the driver wave me across.
I do the same thing when I’m the one in the car. Not every time, but more than I used to. I don’t know if it’s the slower pace of a small town, if it’s rubbing off on me, or if it’s the manners I was taught at a young age.
Either way, it makes me feel good, improves my outlook and makes it that much easier to fish around in my pocket when the person in front of me at the grocery store comes up a few cents short.
That’s the ultimate goal. One random act of kindness sparking another and another, eventually making the world a better place — at least for a little while.
Robert Cox is an award-winning columnist and the managing editor of the Republic-Monitor. Write to him at email@example.com or P.O. Box 367, Perryville, MO 63775. He may be reached by phone at 573-547-4567.