I went to the grocery store today to get a few things for the chicken a la king I a plan to make for dinner when I was given a surprise: the woman in front of me paid for my groceries! I told her repeatedly that that wasn’t necessary but she insisted. She told me that someone had done that for her just days before and she had talked it over with a friend and they each decided to give the same gift to a stranger.
When I returned home, I noticed the receipt.
I remembered being behind this woman in the store and I noticed her buying cupcakes. She had a little boy in her rocket designed shopping cart just as I did, and our sons appeared to be about the same age. As she was selecting cupcakes with multi-colored balloon trinkets on top, her son was insisting on being given a donut, which reminded me to hide the ones I was buying from mine. Our paths crossed again in line as she begged my pardon as she reached for a hand sanitizing wipe. “No problem,” I said, as I explained that I was too busy counting the items in my cart to make sure that I wasn’t beyond the ten required for that line to notice her ostensible intrusion.
The significance of her kind gesture reminded me of a description of Decameron author Boccaccio’s brand of humanism that Robert Pogue Harrison offers in Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition:
To be human means to be vulnerable to misfortune and disaster. It means periodically to find oneself in need of help, comfort, distraction, or edification. Our condition is for the most part an affair of the everyday, not of the heroic, and our minimal ethical responsibility to our neighbor, according to Boccaccio’s humanism, consists not in showing him or her the way to redemption but in helping him or her get through the day.
The stranger that paid for my groceries today gave me a receipt that actually records her heroism in helping me “get through the day.” And I thank her for it.