When I was in middle school, my aunt spent the night at our house in Raleigh in the middle of some travels. She had a friend with her; another woman about her age whose name I can't remember. I do remember that she was nice and had a warm smile, and that she had a really cool Bible. I know, just what a minister would say, right? Bear with me. The Bible was actually in comic book form, thus having immediate appeal to a 12-year old boy. I "read" nearly half of it that night before going to bed.
When I woke up the next morning, my aunt and her friend had already left to get an early start on the rest of their trip. But there was one thing of hers that didn't accompany them. I found the comic book Bible at my place at the kitchen table when I came down for breakfast. Inside was a long inscription from its former owner. She talked about how she enjoyed meeting me and how she was pleased with my interest in her comic book Bible. Which is why she was giving it to me, since her joy at knowing I'd get a lot out of it exceeded any joy she'd have in keeping it. She wished me the best and said she'd look forward to our paths crossing again someday.
I haven't crossed paths with that woman since - at least not yet. But the Bible is still with me. It sits on the shelf in my office, as it did in the office of my previous church, as it will in every office I ever have. And the thing is, it's not really there because it's a Bible. It's there to remind me that God's word can be a heartfelt inscription on the inside flap, and that sometimes the greatest gifts come from those who make a conscious choice to express gratitude in the simplest of ways.
I was reminded of that comic book Bible last night when a link to this article showed up in my Twitter feed, about a note left at a ramen restaurant in Austin, TX. Scrawled on a napkin to not only the waitress but to the entire restaurant, thanking them for the good food and service and the way both provided a much-needed lift in the person's day. The result of some pretty awesome ramen? It's possible. Slightly over-the-top? You could argue that. But I think you'd be selling the author short in either case. Much like my aunt's traveling companion, this person chose to do something they certainly weren't obligated to do: take thirty seconds to express gratitude.
Of course, those thirty seconds could've been used for something entirely different. Case in point: the infamous "I give God 10% why do you get 18" receipt left at an Applebees restaurant earlier this year. You can choose not to leave a tip if you so desire (although that's pretty crappy of you if you do). But why leave a note about it - and why oh why bring God into the mix? I digress.
There is yet a third option we have with those thirty seconds, and it's one you and I consistently choose nearly all the time: doing nothing. We're not overly vindictive or thoughtless along the lines of the non-tipping pastor person. Nor are we exceedingly gracious or reflective like ramen-napkin guy. We just....are. So there are no notes, no inscriptions; we simply move along with the course of things. All things being equal, we're not going to do anything extra with that receipt or napkin because it's not that big of a deal to us. Because we're in a hurry and don't have time to bother with it. Because it doesn't even register on our radar. Because doing nothing is safe.
You and I, our inclination in life is to play it safe. Self-preservation is built into our DNA, and it charts the course of our daily walk and our lifelong journey. And this isn't a bad thing - it's a big reason why our species has survived as long as it has.
But there's another reason humanity has thrived, and ironically it's because we don't always play it safe. We have those wonderful moments where we choose to take risks, step outside our comfort zone, chart new courses, veer off-script and write our own ending. And just between you and me, I wish I were better at recognizing those moments when they came around. I wish I were like my aunt's friend, who rather than instinctively pack that comic book Bible in her travel bag like the nights before, chose instead to veer off-script and write something in it and leave it on someone else's kitchen table. And to think - thirty seconds is all it took.
I mean, what would happen - what would seriously happen - if we made a point of going out of our way to be gracious to someone else? Leave a note on a napkin, shoot a quick text to someone, shake a hand and offer a smile. Something simple; something unexpected and unprovoked. This is not some kind of "pay it forward" thing. This isn't about karma or balancing the universe. This is simply about taking time to express gratitude for no other reason than the expression itself.
With our actions - or our inaction - we have the potential to enrich the life of another person, or shame that person, or do nothing at all for that person. All things being equal, which would you prefer to choose?
Chew on that while I take thirty seconds to write a quick note to the coffee house I'm hanging out in right now.