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Joan Wickett: Teen’s generous act took me by surprise

I don’t know how she happened to choose me, but for some reason I was singled out as her project for the day.

It was late morning and my husband and I decided to use some of a gift card I had received and treat ourselves to coffee and a couple of doughnuts at our local Tim Hortons.

It was not a very busy time and I was second in line to order. I placed my order, the clerk mentioned the total due and I was about to hand her my gift card.

Then a young girl, school age – possibly from the local high school or nearby college – stepped up. She was dressed in jeans, a jacket and scarf, and looked like any typical teenager of the day. She had been standing behind me, and I assumed she was also going to place an order.

Before I was able to hand the clerk my card, she approached me and asked if she would be allowed to pay for my order. I think I stammered a bit as I replied, “thank you, but I have a card,” thinking she might be mistaking me for someone who had no or little funds.

She insisted and said she really would like to pay, even as I held up the card as a visual explanation. She seemed so insistent, I realized it was not my ability to pay that mattered, but her desire to do this for me. Reluctantly, I agreed.

The woman behind the counter muttered, “a random act of kindness,” in an attempt to explain. Apparently, the girl was known to her, perhaps as a result of a previous similar offer.

Not wanting to appear ungrateful, I continued to question her. Is this a class project? Are you doing this as part of a church program? She answered “no” to both questions and handed the clerk the required money. The girl seemed reluctant to discuss her reasoning, or even to continue the conversation. I thanked her again and watched her walk away, still completely puzzled.

I had heard the term “random act of kindness,” but always associated it with simpler acts of polite behavior – holding doors for strangers, letting someone skip ahead in a busy grocery line or giving a motorist the right of way.

Being the recipient of this girl’s unexpected offer was, to say the least, a shock and gave me cause to reflect on how powerful such an act can be.

I wondered what would compel a young girl to offer such a kind act. It occurred to me how sad it is that the rarity of such unselfish behavior should invoke a response of questioning and disbelief.

It definitely inspired me, and I silently vowed to reciprocate with random acts of kindness of my own. It occurred to me then that this was the purpose of the act!

What a powerful tool this could be. What if I reciprocated by doing an act of kindness to two or three more people? If they in turn did the same, it could avalanche into a swarm of kind acts. Even small gestures could provoke a positive reaction. Who knows how many lives would be affected or even changed somewhat by these acts?

In an era where much criticism is given to our young people, where they are often classified as self-centered or uninspired, this girl was a glimpse into the motives and aspirations of many of our youth.

I wish I knew more about her and the people who inspired her. It gives me hope that our future may be a lot more promising than many of us believe.