Sweet Charity

Several times during the recent year-end holidays, I passed through the drive-thru at Starbucks, and as I paid, I asked the cashier to include the purchases of the car behind me. I’ve been participating in this Starbucks-wide trend for several Christmases now, and it brings me an inexplicable feeling of goodwill and satisfaction.  The goal of the effort is anonymity. Or to put it more comprehensively, blind faith.

Blind faith is defined as “belief without true understanding, perception, or discrimination”.  That’s powerful.  “Faith” is a spectrum that starts with basic trust and ends with the highest forms of religion.  But add on “blind” and it elevates the meaning.

Buying a free cup of coffee at Starbucks is the easiest form of blind faith, like handing over a dollar to a beggar.  No judgment as to “what happens next” allowed.  But the intention behind an act of blind faith is worth a bit of exploring here.  Dissecting my Starbucks gesture, I note the key components.  First, I don’t waffle over the amount of the purchase I’m covering.  That’s the blind faith in choosing to pay in the first place – it shouldn’t matter how much.  One time I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw a car with four passengers.  Their bill was well over $20.  But my decision had been made before the car even pulled up behind me, so the point was to stick with it.  Another time my recipient was a well-dressed woman wearing sunglasses and driving a recent-model BMW.  Again, no judgment.  Pay for her coffee and move on.

The second component concerns my “getaway”.  As I’m waiting for my own purchases I’m considering my escape route – the path that gets me away from Starbucks as quickly as possible, with enough turns and traffic lights to deter my beneficiary.  My goal is to remain anonymous, and unless the person behind me memorizes my license plates (or something else unique about my vehicle), I’ve achieved a moment of goodwill and will never see them again.  Frankly, it would spoil the whole effort if the car pulled up next to me at a nearby red light.  They might offer their gratitude, or they might offer to pay me back.  They might even be annoyed, as if I had no business intruding on their “personal life”.  I’d rather not know.  I prefer to lean on blind faith that I brought an unexpected smile, or delivered a tiny give-me-a-break in an otherwise trying day.  Maybe they’ll even “pay it forward”, as a string of 374 consecutive cars did at a Starbucks in Florida back in 2014.

Come to think of it, there’s a third component in the Great Coffee Giveaway.  Never expect the gesture in return.  In the countless times I’ve driven through Starbucks during the holidays, I’ve never thought to myself, “I hope the car in front of me picks up the tab”.  If I knew this was happening, I might just order a half-dozen breakfast sandwiches and several cake-pops to go with my Flat White.  Just kidding, of course.  I hope the thought never crosses my mind.

This week and last – no surprise here – I’ve read dozens of blogs about resolutions for the New Year.  Allow me to contribute my one-and-only.  I’m going to lean on blind faith in the coming year, whenever I have the chance to give someone a break.  Remember the rules: 1) No conditions on the amount (read: cost) of the help.  2) Keep it anonymous, as a) recognition defeats the spirit, and b) giving simply for the sake of giving might inspire “pay it forward”.  3) Don’t expect a similar gesture in return.  That’s not to say you won’t be pleasantly surprised when someone buys your Starbucks coffee one of these days.  You’ll just know there were no hidden agendas.


Benevolence at the Ballpark

A man losing his wallet is akin to a woman having her purse stolen, even though a wallet is typically so much smaller.  The same level of angst and helplessness ensues when you realize this most personal of belongings is gone.  I should know, since I lost my wallet last Sunday at a baseball game in Denver.  But it was returned to me sooner than I expected, and that simple act of charity will leave an imprint far deeper than the carelessness of my actions.

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Ironically, I made a deliberate effort to protect my wallet from the game-day crowds.  I put my cell phone in the same front pocket, making my wallet more difficult to “lift”.  It would take some real effort to bring one or the other item out into the open.

But that’s exactly what I did.  Unbeknownst to me, when I took out my phone after the game my wallet was pulled along with it, dropping unnoticed onto the gravel of the parking lot.  And off we sped for home, none the wiser.  Three or four blocks later that moment of angst kicked in when my hand grazed my now empty front pocket.  A frantic glance around the driver’s seat revealed the obvious: my wallet was really, truly gone.  Even though we were back to the parking lot minutes later (where we wondered whether this was a “loss” or a “lift”), our search through the gravel was fruitless.

Now I’d like you to meet Karen, my new friend. Karen lives here in Colorado Springs, maybe on the south side of town. She enjoys going to baseball games on Sunday afternoons. That’s all I know about her (and may ever know), but let’s add one more thing. Like the fellow from the Bible parable, Karen is a good Samaritan.

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My wallet showed up in my mailbox last Thursday – intact and virtually untouched – wrapped in the note you see above.  What struck me immediately about Karen’s actions was the following: 1) she spent $2.50 or more for the envelope and postage; 2) she apologized for not getting my wallet back to me sooner; and 3) she chose to remain anonymous.  There was no return address on the envelope and the USPS tracking number protected Karen’s contact information.  In this day and age I am somewhat in awe of her decent, anonymous gesture.  My wallet may have fallen to the parking lot but it also fell into the right hands.

The same day my wallet showed up in my mailbox our local newspaper reported a nearby incident involving a stolen wallet from an unlocked car.  The thief is still at-large, and he/she attempted a purchase with one of the credit cards immediately after the steal.  I can’t help but think this is more than just a coincidence of events.

So thank you Karen – whoever and wherever you are.  I may not be able to repay your actions but I can certainly follow your lead.  After all, the world needs more good Samaritans like you.