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Smell the Coffee: Paying it forward

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It was late Tuesday night and I was putting the wraps on this week's column, struggling a bit with the ending, when I decided to hop over to Facebook and distract myself for a bit. Clear my head. That's when I saw a posting by Old Colony real-estate agent Leslie Dorsey Bonham.

After attending yoga class, Bonham had stopped at Rite Aid.

"As I was approaching the checkout, a gentleman was paying for his purchases," Bonham wrote. "The cashier was a young woman who looked worn out. I heard the man ask her about kids and she said, 'Yeah, I've got ...,' but I couldn't hear her finish.

"Then the man picked up his bag and left. I stepped up and put my stuff on the counter. The cashier said, 'I'm gonna cry.' I looked at her and tears were running down her cheeks. I asked her what happened. She held her hand out. It seems the man's purchases totaled 30-some dollars and he paid with a $100 bill. He told her to keep the change.

"Through her tears, she told me a little of her story, because I asked. She and her husband are going through a tough time financially right now and she talked about how awful it is to have this happen at Christmas. Then she said, 'The only place that will help us is that church over there.' She pointed to the direction of Cross Lanes United Methodist. I asked her if that was where she meant and she said yes. The food basket and toy program is the only source of toys and food for her family this year ... and the $60+ from a generous stranger."

After reading Bonham's Facebook post, I hopped over to Yahoo!, where the first story I saw was about a mystery person who has been leaving thousands of dollars in tips at restaurants across the U.S. Although the donor of one New York City tip was revealed to be former PayPal Vice President Jack Selby, other tips with the same "Tips For Jesus" identifier on the receipt were left in other cities across the country the same night.

There were thousands of comments following the story, hundreds of which were from people sharing stories of random acts of kindness and generosity that had been shown to them at different difficult times in their life.

Last Christmas, there were stories in the news of anonymous people paying off the balances owed on the layaways of complete strangers if those layaways included items that were clearly for children. The idea continued to gain steam until hundreds of families had benefited.

The ability to engage in generosity might seem like it's limited to those of means, but it's not. There are so many small kindnesses that require no money at all. For instance, on Tuesday, my wonky right knee decided to up its game by doing its best rendition of how it would feel to have glass shards under the cap. The pain was wicked, increasing throughout the day until I called my doctor to beg for a cortisone shot. They said they could do it if I could get there by 3.

When my co-worker Paige heard I was leaving, she grabbed her coat and keys and made the long, cold walk to where we park and then she drove to get me. She drove me to my car, and then she did the long, cold walk once again.

Like the worker at Rite Aid, that kindness nearly brought me to tears.

And it made me determined to find ways to pay it forward, every chance that I can.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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