Meeting my non-obligations

About 6 months ago I was at a Catholic men’s conference.  The priest who was speaking happened to mention that whenever he is in line at Starbucks, he always pays for the person behind him.   As I am a long-time proponent of giving simply because you can, I decided to adopt this policy myself.  (I have since learned from friends at Starbucks that it is not uncommon for people to do this at the drive-thru.)  Whenever there is someone in line behind me, I will tell the baristperson that the next person’s drink is on me.  I don’t do this for any deeper reasons than 1) I can, and B) it makes other people happy, and I enjoy happiness.  It’s a good return on the investment of a few dollars.

The reactions I have gotten are varied and usually positive.  There’s usually a moment of “What?!” when the baristette tells them their drink is already paid for, followed by a look at me and the question, “Are you serious?”  (Disclaimer: That would be a really mean thing to do.)  Once they realize I am serious, then comes the smile.  Most people thank me two or three times, as if I had just rescued them from the Cybermen.  One woman did a little dance.  Once on a Saturday morning, a teenage girl beamed at me and said, “I’ve been up since 4AM, and everything has gone wrong today.  This is the only good thing that has happened!”  I floated through the entire weekend on that one.  That is why I do it, so someone can go through the rest of their day knowing that something good happened.

But every once in a while, someone will look at me apologetically and say, “Oh, you don’t have to do that!”  I never know quite how to respond to them, because that statement is both obvious and irrelevant.  And it puts me in a quandry, because it kind of defeats the purpose of making people happy to mock them while doing it.

Here are some of the things I want to say, but don’t:

  • “I don’t?!?!  Oh, thank God!  Now I can go buy that wooden hip for my grandmother!”  (Disclaimer: Yes, wooden hip.  As I was writing that line, the terms “wooden leg” and “artificial hip” collided in my mind like those chocolate and peanut butter addicts in the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercials of my youth.  Coincidentally, a peanut butter/chocolate pileup on the interstate is why my grandmother needs a wooden hip.)
  • “Of course I do!  They’re watching!”

There was one woman who was so adamant about buying her own coffee that she tried to force $5 into my shirt pocket, even as I kept backing away from her.  No matter what I said, she insisted on reimbursing me for her drink.  She relented only when I finally told her, “If you give me back the money, I’m just going to pay for her drink instead!”, referring to the person in line behind her.  (I did end up paying for her drink as well, with far less brouhaha.)  But I really just wanted to stop her and say, “Seriously?  Are you so horrible a person that you’re not worthy of a free cup of coffee?  Do you really need to fight back this hard?”

So I’ve come up with a compromise, one that I hope balances my dual obligations to be kind to strangers and still mock them.  Whenever someone says to me, “You don’t have to do that,” I just turn to them, smile, and say, “I’m sorry, did I ask for your opinion?”

I haven’t been punched yet.  Yet.

 

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