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PACE: Gratitude happens whether we see it or not
Lyn Pace
Lyn Pace - photo by Special Photo

November is gratitude month, I guess. Not just on our college campus where we are intentionally celebrating moments of gratitude all month long. November is also gratitude month across the United States and has been for a long time. Thanksgiving is certainly the major reason to thank for this. I’m afraid, though, we sometimes think it’s the only month for gratitude.

That wasn’t true back in May, though, when I witnessed a beautiful occurrence at the local Panera in Conyers. 

It was the weekend after Commencement, so I was feeling pretty good since the summer was ahead of me and the busyness of a semester was starting to subside. Sam, my son, and I took off early that Saturday morning for some Target shopping and made a stop at Panera for oatmeal and a shared chocolate chip bagel. Two things I’m thankful for, for sure.

We ordered our food and were waiting on our bagel to be sliced, plated, and handed off. I had finished filling my cup of hazelnut coffee. The place was teeming with kids in soccer jerseys either gearing up for a game or enjoying that feeling you get after you’ve played outside early in the morning and followed it with a breakfast out. 

One little girl came bounding up to the register with a large smile holding two $5 bills – one for each hand. I imagine she was 5 or 6 years old. I looked over to a table full of adults and two other older kids, the table from which she had been sent to order something. They were watching her. Clearly, she had been sent with money as an experiment or experience to practice doing this on her own. You know, handling money, placing an order, figuring out how much to pay.

The cashier took one look at her big smile and grew a smile on his face too. 

“I’d like to have a cookie, please,” she exclaimed. He asked her to come over to the case and pick out which cookie she wanted. After much consternation and debating, she chose the one with multicolored pieces in it, like an M&M cookie. He bagged it and came back to the register.

She stuck out the two fives. He smiled and handed her the cookie. “This one’s on me.”

Generosity. Very much akin to gratitude.

She didn’t quite know what to do. She looked at the two fives and then looked at the bag holding the cookie. He gently pushed it toward her. 

She smiled, took it, and said, “Thank you.”

He turned around and proceeded to prepare our bagel.

Meanwhile, in her bright orange soccer jersey, No. 6 shrugged her shoulders. Looked at us and looked over at her family who had stopped paying attention to her. 

She then turned around and dropped both fives in the tip jar. 

Only Sam and I saw this, and I think our jaws hit the floor. She turned around and looked at us again and shrugged her shoulders. Smiled. Then bounded back to the table with her cookie.

I watched as she explained the whole thing to her family. They too were astonished she had dropped both fives into the tip jar. But what could they do at this point?

Generosity. Very much akin to gratitude. And this cashier didn’t see any of it take place — at least not the tip.

That happened in May, and I’ve been holding on to that story for just the right moment. A moment like this, during the month for gratitude. Gratitude that took place six months ago on a day when a 5-year-old overwhelmed a dad and his 9-year-old with generosity. 

Generosity. Something very much akin to gratitude. Something that happens all the time, whether we see it or not.

The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University and lives in Oxford, Ga., with his spouse and 10-year-old. His new book published by the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate Press is “The Sacred Year: A Contemplative Journey Through the Liturgical Year.”