Life Delivers a Million-Dollar Grin

I have been called idealistic, simplistic, naïve, corny, "in another world," lost, and old-fashioned. After hearing my positive take on an issue, someone once accused me of worshiping at the Dale Carnegie altar. Many of these comments were based around my preaching the belief that for the most part, life and people are wonderful. I also don't hesitate to express my views that we can change the world. We each have the power to make the world a kinder and gentler place, and it is often simple to achieve it.

I must admit that there are times when it is difficult to keep looking up when we are surrounded by so many challenges that seem insurmountable. We live in a time when technological advances bombard us with information. Part of the problem is created by the negative news repetitiously reported to us. The current news mantra has become "the more sensational, the better." We are talking the bloodier and more outrageous, the better. Creating a stress-filled environment has become a media game.

I am tired of that game, and I want to report some positive news today -- a story about some good people in a good community. As I head to my office on Saturday mornings, I often stop at my favorite place for breakfast. My restaurant of choice is a downtown, lunch-counter place that takes me back to my childhood. When I was a boy, it was a big treat when my mother took us to the five-and-dime. Back in the fifties and sixties, all five-and-dimes had lunch counters with spinning stools and a grill where you could watch your food cooked. I still remember what a treat it was having my grilled cheese sandwich, French fries, and a chocolate milkshake. Taking the bus from our town of Little Falls to Paterson, New Jersey, and the lunch-counter experience made a wonderful Saturday with my mother.

A recent breakfast stop at my lunch-counter place became something more than a breakfast and a trip back to simpler times. As I finished my omelet and cup of coffee, I asked my server to do me a favor. I requested the bill for two young women sitting not far away. I paid their bill as I paid mine, made the server swear to secrecy, and headed to my office. Paying a strange's tab is not a big deal, but I occasionally do it because it makes me grin. I hoped the two young women would also grin.

My day at the desk didn't involve much joy or productivity. It being tax time, there weren't many grins involved. That all changed when my friend and owner of the restaurant called to tell me that the two young women I secretly bought breakfast for paid it forward by buying another table's breakfast. He then told me that ten other people throughout the morning had continued to pay anonymously for other customers' meals when they were told that their meal was paid. I suddenly grinned from ear to ear.

I have always believed that life is about the grins you give and receive. Simple acts of kindness often change the world more than you realize. On that cold January morning I tried to pass a grin on, but it came back to me bigger and better. For me, it was proof positive that we can each make the world a little kinder and gentler in millions of ways. Please give it a shot, because life is good, and the best way to change the world is one grin at a time. Maybe you will even get lucky as I did and receive one of those million-dollar grins.