While teaching this morning, and listening to some really inspiring presentations on my students’ current “Kindness Projects,” I was reminded of one of the saddest things I have ever experienced. A young student who didn’t want to complete the assignment at all was telling about how, through his project (giving hot chocolate to some construction workers who were building a house in his neighborhood in the recent cold spell,) he had come to realize the power of a simple act of kindness.  He encouraged his classmates to “make the change” as well.

I was newly married in the memory that popped into my head, and I remember this because I had a new ring I was proud of, and not at all not proud of, showing off.  And this I remember because at first I thought the Dunkin’ Donuts cashier was flirting with me.   And I was all hey thanks for the free coffee, but, ahem, please notice the sparkly number on this here left hand I am gingerly reaching toward you to grab said coffee.

But he wasn’t flirting.  I know this because this free coffee thing?  It went on for several days straight with no actual flirting.  (This gives me another clue that I was newly married– ie without children — for I was still in the habit of buying coffee and a bagel sandwich every morning at a coffee shop. Sigh.)

So anyway.  Days.  It went on for.  Then, one day, my cashier friend asked me for my $1.98, because I was only getting a coffee that morning, no sandwich, no muffin.  I had not paid for coffee in like a week.  I was getting quite used to it, and much to my hindsighty dismay, didn’t even question it anymore.  I’d like to think I had better things to think about, but my guess is, not so much.  I was still getting ten hours of sleep a night in those days.  I was probably mostly still asleep.

I, being confused that I was actually being asked for money, took a couple of minutes digging it out of my pocket.  Like a college student.  I don’t think I carried a purse for another couple of years.  And he, for his part, stood apologizing to me.  “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he began, but I interrupted him.

“No, it’s fine, just a second, I have a couple of ones here somewhere,” I stuttered.

“Oh, good!  Ones!” he said, “I know how to make change from those.”

I had been receiving free coffee (and indeed, breakfast) because my cashier friend could not make change if the total was a number he couldn’t subtract in his head.

I learned very soon afterward that, of course, he was fired because he had been giving lots and lots of free coffee and pastries to lots and lots of patrons.  I don’t know why I’m telling you this, except that I have thought of him often in the past 16 years – I wish I had known the right thing to say, or I wish I had offered to teach him how to make change, or I wish I had given Dunkin’ Donuts the money I surely owed them, or…something.

I just thought of him today, and I wanted to write it down.  That’s all.