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'Tis the season of random kindness

Has this ever happened to you? I hope so.

I was in a crowded store recently, shopping for the items one needs (or believes are necessary) to support a happy holiday. I’d been making purchases all afternoon — my husband had expected me home hours earlier. My feet hurt, and I was tired. The checkout line I had been standing in for some time was long, and there were too few clerks.

A lanky young man wearing the store’s name tag ambled over and tapped the arm of the customer behind me, beckoning him toward a new checkout opportunity. The customer, gray-headed like me, hesitated in responding and then offered a hearty smile of encouragement, and with the flourish of his arm encouraged me to move ahead of him into the newly opened line. I declined initially, but his smile was genuine, and he persisted in his offer.

I suspect his feet hurt too — actually, was there was a slight limp evident as he helped me realign myself in the new line? His overflowing cart definitely suggested he had a family waiting.

It was a simple, caring gesture. We had a brief holiday exchange. Even the young clerk seemed impressed at the tenor of the moment. This man’s thoughtfulness stayed with me — even into the following day. I want more of that, so I am working on it.

Do you remember when the concept of “pay it forward” came into vogue? The idea is that a beneficiary of a good deed repays it by doing a good deed for another person. Some reports suggest it was initially offered in a book published in 1916, “Garden of Delight,” by Lily Hardy Hammond.

Or maybe you recall the phrase “practice random acts of kindness.” Years ago, I remember it as a bumper sticker often found on aging Volkswagens. Perhaps I could suggest to my husband that we get one of those bumper stickers for our 3-year-old Subaru. I think I’ll do that, but I may wait until after giving him the list of all the things I love about him. It’s my newest idea for Christmas gifting. I may use it with our grandchildren too.

My developing theory is that if we paid more attention to kinder, gentler ways of living our lives, it could become contagious — a virus of the best kind. For my part in the days ahead, I pledge to offer positive comments generously and smile more often at strangers — especially elderly folks. I will find new ways to unexpectedly affirm friends and family, as well as the people I randomly encounter in a grocery store.

Yesterday I complimented a mother on the behavior of her toddler son, and she beamed. I noticed she gave the curly headed child a tender side-hug as they walked away. At lunch with a dear friend this week, I gifted her with a small book of poetry I knew she’d like, and we left our waitress a larger-than-usual tip and wrote, “Thank you very much — happy holidays” on an unused napkin.

‘Tis the season. But it should always be the season.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor emeritus, Oregon State University, and the author of “How Gray is My Valley: Enlightened Observations About Being Old.” Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.