May 2012

Coffee and Kindness to All


A few days ago when I tried to pay for my morning coffee, I was told it had already been paid for. The cashier then pointed to a woman near the exit and said that she sometimes buys coffee for strangers. Wow — I had been the recipient of a “random act of kindness”! Catching up with her, I thanked her and told her that she had not only given me a pleasurable surprise but also had inspired me to do the same for someone else. I guess we’d call this “pay it forward”. She hadn’t expected to be identified and thanked personally; she had done it for the joy of giving.

This incident is a perfect example of the old saying, “It’s the little things in life that count”. Reflecting on it, I find within her actions an indication of belief in the future and the role we can all play in it. Surely my life wasn’t changed by a free cup of coffee, but being at the receiving end of a stranger’s kindness — yes, that is life-affirming. And because it brought me joy, I want to do it for others.

Abdul-Baha wrote, “Enkindle with all your might in every meeting the light of the love of God, gladden and cheer every heart with the utmost loving-kindness, show forth your love to the strangers just as you show forth to your relations.” He also reminded us that we can transform the stranger into a friend and an enemy into a true brother. This tells me that, if I truly recognize the intrinsic goodness in others, then surely I will want to be kind, respectful and generous to them.

My being the random recipient of a free cup of coffee has another aspect to it, i.e. my benefactor had no way of knowing in advance who would get the coffee and whether that person would be worthy of it. Indeed, the assumption seemed to be that anyone and everyone is worthy. So the point isn’t about the coffee as much as it is about the anonymous, random nature of the act itself.

One of the fundamental teachings of the Baha’i Faith is to associate in affectionate fellowship with stranger and friend alike, being considerate and kind, without judging them, and trusting that they deserve respect and even love. I admit this isn’t always easy to do, but with that ideal in front of me, I continue to try.

Another quotation reads, “Under all circumstances . . . show forth genuine love and be not defeated by the intensity of rancor, hatred, quarrel, malice and the grudge of the people”. Too many of the world’s problems have these root causes, i.e. long-standing grudges, senseless quarrels, entrenched animosity.

I realize that lofty principles alone do not promise an immediate transformation, and that a small gesture such as a cup of coffee is not going to instantly bring about forgiveness, universal love or world peace. But it is indeed a start.


© Jaellayna Palmer 2012