“You don’t know me, but it would be my pleasure to get your next round for you” I said to a gentleman at one of my favorite watering spots. It was an effort to fulfill a promise I made to myself several months back.
“I’m not one to turn down a free drink, my friend, but I don’t know you. I, I, I, I’m not saying that you are, but just in case you should know…”
“That you’re straight? Taken? Not…”
“That there’s anything wrong with not being straight” my slightly flustered but quickly recovering stranger replied.
We shared a brief and mutually acknowledging laugh as I motioned to the bartender for another round.
“Tony” my new friend said as a scotch arrived for him and a bourbon for me. “Now I’m really curious about this drink.”
“About six months ago, I was in line at my bank. The guy in front of me went to the teller and did something truly extraordinary. I watched as he explained to the teller that when he was depositing his unemployment check that teller gave him too much cash back. I watched a guy receiving unemployment return a hundred bucks to a bank that would never have known he got it. An ethical man will do the right thing when no one is watching, a truly exceptional man will do that thing even when it also costs him something.”
Tony was nodding in affirmation and familiarity.
“I was stunned by this act of morality in an frequently profane world. I wished I had done something to acknowledge it right then and there but I just went to the teller and handled my transaction…”
“And now you try to ‘Pay it Forward’ by buying drinks for random people?”
My memory for faces (and too many other things) can be shaky, but I am pretty sure that I burned that face in my mind. I was determined that I would remember him and buy him a drink, or a coffee, or just say thank you for giving a quick recharge to my battery of faith.”
I don’t know whether Tony was too embarrassed to admit that he was receiving unemployment benefits, being too modest about something he considered ordinary, or I just remembered the wrong face. The odds of the last option were pretty thin; but maybe discretion was more valuable than my thanks or admiration.
“Yeah, I just pay it forward some days when I’m feeling flush. Nice to meet you, Tony.”