Random Acts of Generosity

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The day’s business had wrapped, and I wasn’t looking forward to eating take-out alone. A weekend of Zoom board meetings had brought me to our Kitchener offices for the weekend (noise and dust renovations had made it impossible to connect from my home office) and I was on my own this evening. Luckily, it turned out a friend of mine was playing piano with his trio at a local restaurant, so I headed down for some dinner and jazz.

An Unexpected Gift

Happily ensconced at a table alone, I enjoyed a wood-fired pizza and brew. I didn’t mind the lack of company – it was nice to just sit back with the fabulous music. Before I knew it, two hours had passed. I signalled the server and asked for my bill.

“Oh, it’s been looked after already,” she said through her mask.

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t quite make out what you said,” I asked, wondering if I had misheard her. She repeated that my meal was paid for, gesturing towards a couple sitting a few tables away. I looked over, thinking I might know them, but they were not familiar. The server saw my confused expression and continued, “They do this all the time. I‘ve worked in a few restaurants in the area and this is just something they like to do.”

The Kindness of Strangers

Why would complete strangers buy my dinner? Having come straight from a meeting, I was well dressed for the casual restaurant. I doubt I looked like I needed financial help.

The band finished their set and a few minutes later, the couple walked past my table on their way out. They paused when I called out with a sincere “Thank you”. Feeling grateful but a little awkward, I asked if they had felt sorry for me sitting all alone. They assured me they hadn’t. The man explained, “When we go out to dinner together, we always look for someone who is alone and ask the server to send us that person’s bill. We’ve been doing this for about ten years.”

Curious, I asked how they choose who they’ll surprise this way, and they shrugged. “We don’t think too much about it. Usually just the first person we see who is alone or appears to be alone.” Caught between gratitude and gobsmacked, I nodded silently as they wished me goodnight and left the restaurant. I had a lot of unanswered questions about their experience giving this way, but there was no doubt that their generosity had left me feeling seen, connected, and cared for.

In the weeks that followed, I told a lot of people the story of my meal, and everyone was intrigued with the idea of planning to be generous to a complete stranger. And that has given me an idea.

Plan to be Generous this Season

Now that we’re entering the holiday season with a variety of restrictions on parties, travel, and other festivities, I’m sure many people will find themselves in some way “eating alone” this year. Not necessarily lonely, although I’m sure some are, but missing their usual yuletide cheer. This presents a fantastic opportunity for us to celebrate the season with a few random acts of generosity.

It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture – in fact, its probably better if it isn’t. Shovel a little extra sidewalk on your street, pay for the drive thru order of the person behind you in line, make time to Zoom with someone in a care home, drop a note or a care package in the mail, or donate a little extra to charities struggling amidst the pandemic. Like the couple in the restaurant said, we needn’t think too hard about it. We just have to walk in with a plan to be generous.

Contributed by Darren Pries-Klassen

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