Her name was Alexis. A sweet young thing, she couldn’t have been more than twenty-four years old. Old enough to be opening the store on a Sunday morning, but young enough I could easily be her mother. Let’s not go there.

Moments before, my friend, Cheri, and I had walked into Alexis’ donut shop in downtown San Jose. Because, hello. DONUTS.

{Save the hate because I don’t care. I heart donuts.}

So there we stood, Cheri and I, one of us drooling on the glass. We were the only customers perusing Alexis’ offerings while she busied herself folding boxes and fulfilling orders.

“Are you ready?” she asked when she looked up.

“Yes.” I smiled. Who doesn’t smile when looking at donuts? “We’ll take two buttermilk bars.” Please note I said “two” and not the “twenty-two” my heart was begging for.

She moved to get our order. And then I remembered:

“Please.” I cleared my throat. “I forgot to say ‘please.’ Sorry about that. We’d like two buttermilk bars, please.”

It was a silly little thing, really. Perhaps the Good Manners Fairy showed up because I was contemplating the sweet buttery confection about to enter my mouth. Alexis didn’t reply, and I doubted she’d heard me. She continued to do her thing, bagging our treats and moving to the register. I pulled out my card, signed the receipt and smiled a “Thanks!”

That’s when she spoke.

“Thank you for saying ‘please,'” she said, looking me in the eye. She’d heard me after all. “No one says that anymore. Ever. It means a lot.”

For the next couple minutes we exchanged handshakes and first names, and I did my best to look her in the eye, smile, and make her feel seen, valued. But I couldn’t help but wonder how many times I’ve stepped over kindness to get to my donut or next appointment. How many times I’ve neglected connection because I was too busy or preoccupied or wrapped up in myself to see the sweet face standing and working only eight feet away.

Our interaction involved little time and no more than a couple dozen words. But I haven’t stopped thinking about it for over a week.

I miss the simple kindnesses of strangers. I miss the expectation of manners, of doors being opened and groceries being carried and kind strangers shaking my hand, looking me in the eye, and remembering a first name. We’re all so suspicious, so careful. Maybe we have good reason for it. Then again, maybe it’s just easier. Maybe smiling and connecting and saying “please” have become too much of an effort.

It’s a shame, really. As it turns out, twenty-something girls named Alexis notice the absence. Which means (brace yourself), maybe the lack of kindness and manners isn’t a problem of the younger generation only, but ours too.

Here’s what I think: We spend a great deal of time waxing poetic about being “world-changers” and “influencers” and “making a difference.”  We want to live a grand story and leave behind a legacy that will outlast us. Noble desires, every one.

But perhaps the best way to change the world starts by simply changing someone’s day. By being a sweet taste of kindness that causes someone to look up, smile and exchange first names. 

In other words, maybe I need to spend less time planning grandiose strategies and more time practicing everyday ones, such as saying simple words like …

  • “Please.”
  • “Thank you.”
  • “Here, let me get that for you.”
  • “I appreciate you.”
  • “Can I help you with that?”
  • “What’s you’re name?”
  • “It’s so nice to meet you, _____________!”

I’ll stopping preaching now, though you should know I’m still preaching at myself. Perhaps these are little things, inconsequential things, no bigger than a donut in a glass case. Besides, I’m sure you could come up with a few solid reasons why this won’t work or nobody cares.

But I care. And my new friend Alexis cares. And perhaps we could all use a little something sweet to start—or finish—our day.

When is the last time a stranger’s kindness delighted you? When’s the last time you delighted someone else? 

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