“Hi, I’d like a hot chai tea please,” I said to the barista after ten minutes of standing in line. It was the a.m. rush hour for caffeine. I didn’t want to be at this café. But here I was, hundreds of miles from home, on a work trip. On my birthday.
“Chai tea latte you mean?”
“No just the tea, like the loose leaf tea.”
“Oh we don’t have that.”
“You don’t have tea!?” I said in disbelief.
“Oh no,” the barista clarified. “We just don’t have chai tea. But we have other tea.”
“What kinds of tea?”
“Earl Gray, Green, English Breakfast, Vanilla Rooibos…”
“Early Gray, thanks,” I said, feeling the tension building behind me in the stalling line.
“That will be $3.50.” I handed her my credit card.
“Oh I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s a $10 minimum for credit. Do you have cash?”
“Ummm…. I don’t… but do you think maybe you could charge me an extra 50 cents or something to balance it out?”
“Well, if you want we could charge you the $10 minimum.”
Ugh. I stifled a groan and thought of my student loans. How could I justify spending $10 on hot water and dried leaves? At my 7% interest rate, that would compound to over $15 over the course of my repayments.
“Well?” the barista prompted. I hadn’t responded yet.
The man behind me coughed into his hand a couple times, but it was clear he was expelling impatience, not clearing his throat. I still hadn’t responded, stunned that I was experiencing such analysis paralysis at the crossroads of an inconsequential decision like this one.
“It’s okay, I’ve got it!” said a girl a few spots back in the line. She had big blue eyes and a wide smile. “Just add it to my tab.”
I was startled.
“Thank you,” I said, not quite knowing how to respond.
“Of course, she said,” waving her hand, “It’s nothing. And it would have sucked to pay $10 for a tea.”
It was such a simple thing, but I felt so moved by that gesture. And so did the people around us. “Wow, thank you that’s super nice,” said the barista, and the other patrons in line nodded in agreement.
As I sat sipping my tea, I was in something of a state of awe.
What that girl had done was so nice, and so unnecessary. No social code says you should pay for someone else’s tea if they don’t have cash. But she did. And it meant a lot. That day was my birthday in a foreign city, and I was not feeling very happy. But she turned that around for me. That day, I smiled at strangers. I was nicer and kinder than I would have been otherwise. And if I’m ever at a café where the person ahead forgot their wallet, I’ll pick up the tab. Because I know what a difference it can make, thanks to that anonymous girl with the blue eyes and big smile.
A note from me…
I hope you liked that story!
As cheesy as this might sound, I genuinely think that random acts of kindness are a very tangible way in which we can change the world for the better. The fact that I was helped by a random girl made me want to help someone else if the opportunity arose. Compassion is contagious. It even has a psychological term, generalized reciprocity (1) — the concept that someone who gets help from another person will be more likely to help a third person. Being kinder in our communities can have exponential effects. Paying it forward really does work.