Reaching for a favor

Far be it from me to contradict Benjamin Franklin, the renowned scientist, inventor, publisher and diplomat who served as America’s first postmaster general, but I can’t help thinking he was feeling a little cynical when he wrote that the only sure things in life were death and taxes. Were I asked to list life’s sure things, I’d add a third one, which is that several times a year, some random individual I’ve never laid eyes on before (and likely will never see again) will, intentionally or by accident, do something to make my day.

A recent example of this pleasant phenomenon occurred last weekend inside a Biddeford grocery store. A woman was headed down the “Baking Needs” aisle at the same time I was proceeding up it. Nothing was blocking our respective paths, we were headed in opposite directions, and each of us was courteously keeping our cart to the right, doing our part to avoid creating one of those dreaded Saturday-afternoon-grocery-store-aisle bottlenecks.

I might not recognize this Heaven-sent woman if I saw her again, and that’s a shame. But she wasn’t any more memorable physically than I am. Like most of humanity, she wasn’t unusually short, tall, slender or heavyset. She was wearing a white ski jacket, and while I don’t think she had glasses, I wouldn’t swear to it. She could have been a 30-year-old having a tough day or a well-kept 60-year- old. I probably wouldn’t have noticed her had she not, as our carts got to within five feet of one another, flashed me a beatific smile. When I returned her cheerful expression, she stopped, then hesitantly asked, “Sir? Can you do me a favor?”

Even before she elaborated, I knew the exact favor she was going to request.

“Would you be able to reach that box for me?” she asked, pointing to a gluten- free cake mix located at the very back of the second shelf from the top. And as I always do in these situations, I eagerly and enthusiastically granted her request.

Full disclosure: my skill set is severely limited. Had this woman asked me to jump-start her car, change her tire, repair an electronic device or perform any task involving mechanics, carpentry, plumbing, electricity, or any other useful skill, I would have had to shame-facedly turn her down, because I possess no qualifications in any of those areas. However, when it comes to fetching items located in high places, well, my unusually long arms are just what the doctor ordered. (I’m also pretty good at changing light bulbs located above the reach of most people, but really, how often does anyone get asked to do that in a grocery store?)

After I fetched the cake mix in the blue box (not the brown one) for her, she thanked me warmly and genuinely. However, before we each headed back to our respective reality, I had to tell her the whole truth, which was that it was she who was doing me the favor. Nothing strokes a man’s ego (or at least this man’s ego) like being able to use his unique abilities to help others. I had entered that store feeling like a nobody, but proudly strode out of it imagining I was Clark Kent’s alter ego.

The impromptu interaction I shared with that lovely woman last weekend reminded me of how easy it is to make another person’s day. More people should aspire to brighten someone else’s existence when circumstances allow it. Better yet, we should all be prepared to spring into action when an opportunity to create a spirit-lifting scenario presents itself.

Andy Young
January 13, 2024

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