Pay It Forward

I recently visited a friend down South and something interesting happened. We went to have breakfast in a local diner and as we approached our table, my friend noticed that there was a credit card on the table. She picked it up and gave it to the server, who brought it to her supervisor.

As it turned out, it belonged to one of the people sitting right in the next booth. How her card got on our table, I’m still not sure. So, the woman thanked us and we went about enjoying our breakfast. The two people at the other table finished their meal, got up, and went to the front to pay their bill.

The next thing we know, the woman comes over to our table and says, “Breakfast is on me. Enjoy.” And she walked away.

I was very moved by that act of generosity. Yes, losing a credit card is a potentially dangerous thing. If my friend and I were dishonest people, we could have had some real fun with it. And I guess she recognized that.

But I have to wonder if that would have happened in New York. Maybe, maybe not. New York is not the cesspoool of human degradation that people think it is. New York is filled with kind, compassionate, thoughtful people. There are selfish, rude, and devious people as well, but those people exist everywhere you go.

The difference is that there are 8 million people in NYC and logistically speaking, there are simply more of the bad kind than in other places. The same can be said of other big cities. It’s also harder to be nice in a big city because we live with a jungle mentality—you have to fight for what’s yours, whether it’s a job, a parking spot, or a table at a restaurant. Again, this is due to the sheer number of people in a small area. There are too many lions fighting for the same piece of meat.

The same is true for any overcrowded market, including the mainstream publishing business. It’s a fight for a piece of the meat. If you’re lucky, you’re tossed a scrap to gnaw on and it’s up to you to hunt down a bigger chunk.

But back to my story. Regardless of where you are, it’s not often that you see that kind of generosity or appreciation. Of course, the woman’s action was in response to our honesty. My friend said, “Pay it forward.” When someone shows you a kindness, do the same for someone else. And I think those are good words to start the weekend with.

Pay it forward.

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