Top 10 Stories of 2012 - Story #5 - 3 Years Later, A Smile Card Seed Sprouts
--by greggie, posted Dec 27, 2012
"Three years! I've had this card in my wallet for three years!" He sounded both elated and relieved.
Backtrack a few moments.
I'm flagged down while walking by a table in a restaurant where I serve. I hadn't been serving this table, but they wanted something with me anyway, so I went over. A young couple sat at the table, looking at me with intention.
"Are you serving those two women in the other room?" they said, gesturing to one of my tables. I confirmed, yes. "Well, we'd like to pay for their bill, anonymously," they offered tentatively. "Can you do that for us?"
Can I?! It'd be an honor. I told them so, and we worked out the details. The table to be tagged hadn't gotten to dessert yet so they even added on a slice of cake, and I offered to partner in the tag and cover anything else they ordered.
The scene was set; they'd never see it coming! The only contact these two tables had had was a few minutes of chatting at the front of the restaurant while they were all waiting to be seated. I asked the couple if they do this sort of thing all the time.
"Yea, all the time," they joked sarcastically, indicating this wasn't exactly in their weekly budget. Yet there was a lightness about them, in choosing to spend more than their own meal cost on strangers they had only exchanged a few words with.
Inspired myself now, I zipped into the back room, and pulled out a few smile cards from my wallet. After ringing up the bill, I brought it back to the couple. I offered the smile cards and an explanation.
"I happen to have a tool on me for this sort of thing…" Before I could get any further, the man's eyebrows shot up and he began fumbling in his own wallet.
"I recognize that," he said, as if coming across a long-lost childhood friend. "I think I got that same card a while back…" Then he found it, buried amongst other cards in his wallet -- a tattered, worn and definitely genuine smile card.
"Wow, how did you get that?" I asked, wanting to hear the story. But the story back then had faded; the real story was happening then and there.
"I can't even remember if I was having a really bad day or having a really good day … but someone gave it to me in a cafe," he recalled.
The woman, too, recognized the smile card, saying she had seen them at a toll booth on the bridge. Cool. :)
Meanwhile, the two women who were about to be tagged, ordered dessert and were ready for their check. (They did end up ordering one slice of cake to share :) and another drink, which I gladly covered)
In place of the check, I put the tattered smile card on the table and informed them that they were the recipients of an anonymous act of kindness from someone else in the restaurant. It took a few seconds to sink in.
"Oh my goodness … this never happens to me! That's amazing! … whoever it was, please tell them thank you."
They read the card front and back, still processing what just happened. It was as if they won the kindness lottery. The inspiration was percolating, and they were already plotting how to pay it forward.
I came back smiling to the initial couple. I shared the tag story with them, and conveyed the gratitude from the other table.
The man was still steeped in wonder, at the what-comes-around-goes-around nature of that whole interaction.
"You know," he shared with me, "that time at the cafe was three years ago." In a way, it was a this-never-happens-to-me moment for him too.
The seed had nearly been forgotten, but like bamboo flowering, burst forth when it was good and ready. The impact of the cycle hit him, and he declared his revelation.
"It's been three years! I've had this card in my wallet for three years!" At this point he was nearly shouting; it was almost cathartic. "I feel so…light." he said, with a big grin.
"Kindness high," I smiled back.
Then, he remembered the other smile cards I had brought to the table. "And you wanted to give us more!"
Even though they didn't take more smile cards, I think we all knew it doesn't end there.