If the headlines are to be believed, the world is splitting into factions at war of one kind or another. In Syria it is war over religious differences, money and power. In Washington, D.C., it is about ideological differences, money and power. In the Central African Republic, it is back to religion, money and power.
But, on the local level, most people everywhere just seem to want a sense of security, enough food to feed the family and maybe even an opportunity to help someone else. I was the beneficiary of such an opportunity recently, and the story deserves telling.
I was shopping at Tops Market for Thanksgiving dinner preparations with only three items on my list, and one of those was a gallon of milk. I picked up the items, put them on the counter and waited my turn to be served. The cashier was bagging items for the lady in front of me and picked up my gallon of milk, put a “Paid” sticker on it and moved it to the end of the counter.
I was startled to say the least. I thought my gallon of milk had been sold to someone else, so I asked if I had to get another one. The cashier said, “No, this lady has paid for your gallon of milk.” I could think of no reason for this act of generosity, so I stumbled a bit. And the cashier explained as follows.
“She bought five Pillsbury pie crusts, so she gets a free gallon of milk. She didn’t want the milk, so she said to pay for yours.”
“She” turned out to be Betsy Foster, of Berlin, who is a regular Tops customer. When I offered to pay her for the milk, she declined. She said, “I can’t drink that much milk, but it’s free, so I thought I could pay for yours.”
This is not the first time that I have benefited from the generosity of others at our local grocery store. Twice, when it was Grand Union, I came up a bit short at the checkout counter and, in each case, the shopper behind me immediately produced the necessary change to complete the purchase.
Is this kind of everyday thoughtfulness by ordinary people more important than all the bickering that gets the headlines? I don’t know if it is at the moment, but I do know that if we all did it all the time, the world would be a very different place.
That is the message of Thanksgiving, and it is also the message of Nelson Mandela. After 27 years in prison, he brought a smile and an offer of peace to the white separatists. Eventually, they took it, and that has altered the course of history.
The power of generosity is no small matter.
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