Tipping Points

Published 20 years, 2 months past

My original plan for today was to talk about weblogs and how they (don’t) work, but I’m having trouble forming coherent thoughts, so I’m going to put that off for a couple of days.  Besides, when I saw this picture of Simon Willison‘s desktop, my brain crashed and had to be rebooted—which makes it less stable than OS X, actually.

Instead, I have a personal reaction to a journal entry (spotted via theferrett) that described brightening a waitress’ night.  It takes a small amount of back story, so bear with me just a moment.

In early 2001, my maternal grandfather died of prostate cancer.  His wife had died years earlier, and so the money he had left was passed on to his four children, Mom obviously being one of them.  She had various ideas about what to do with it; her father had recommended that the inherited money be used for philanthropic purposes.  Although this was completely in keeping with what Mom would have done anyway, she was notoriously cautious about spending money—a trait I picked up from her—and so it sat in a bank account while she pondered her options.

Then, at the end of the same year, she was diagnosed with cancer of her own and told she had perhaps eigthteen months to live.  Caution was no longer a viable strategy.

The vast bulk of the money was set aside for donation to a single worthy cause of her choosing, but that’s a story for another time.  What she did with the rest was spread around “random acts of kindness.”  It so happened that she’d always had a dream, of sorts, that one day she’d have enough money to become a big tipper.  We never did talk about why, and maybe she wouldn’t have known, but I’ve always thought it was an effect of growing up poor in what was effectively a Depression-era family in the late 1940’s.  Whatever the reason, she’d always wanted to be flush enough to leave large tips when she dined.

Now she had some money and not much time to spend it, so she lived her dream.  When she went out for dinner, she’d give the server the usual 15% to 20%, and then add a twenty dollar bill on top of that.  If the check was for a small amount, as when she went out for coffee and the server brought a check for $4.95, she’d just put down a twenty and leave.  She usually didn’t say anything about it, she just did it, feeling good to have done it and feeling good to have made someone else’s day a little better.  And the service had to be really, really bad for her to forego an act of kindness.  This continued until the week before her death; the last place I know of her doing it was the late, lamented Dottie’s Diner, where we all went for lunch after the doctor told her that her chemotherapy options had run out.

She had some servers run after her, a few coming out to the parking lot, to tell her about her ‘mistake’ and try to give it back.  I think she was secretly pleased to meet someone that honest, even though she was uncomfortable telling them there was no mistake in person and receiving thanks.  Some of them burst into tears, or came close to it, and that made her really uncomfortable.

As I was writing this entry, I told Kat I was having trouble expressing what I wanted to say, and was thinking about deleting it completely.  She listened to what I was writing about and said, “Oh!  I performed a random act today!”  She’d gone out to lunch with a friend.  “The waitress ran after me to tell me I’d made a mistake, and when I told her it was for her, she hugged me.  I could feel your Mom smiling.”

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