One day I was having a rough morning, I had an important job interview and I was going to Tim Horton’s through the driveway to get a coffee. I was running late, and a woman cut in front of me in line. At first, I was really upset, I even said to myself she was rude. When I got to the window the employee let me know the woman in front of me had paid for my order. In an instant her act of kindness dissolved all my upset, in fact I felt bad for the mean thoughts I had about her. I had no idea why she chose to pay for my order, perhaps she felt bad for cutting me off, maybe someone had done that for her, regardless she made my day! Perhaps you have done this for another person or heard of someone doing this.
Do you know this tradition of paying forward a coffee is over a hundred years old and finds it roots in Naples? A caffe sospeso, Italian for suspended or pending coffee, is a cup of coffee paid for in advance as an anonymous act of charity. This tradition started in the working-class cafes of Naples, where someone who had experienced good luck would order a sospeso, paying the cost of two coffees and only drinking one. A underprivileged person would later inquire if there was a sospeso available and would be served a coffee for free. Over the years other coffee shops have adopted the sospeso to promote kindness and caring. The pending meal, and suspended meal are other traditions that have started up in more recent times, to give people the opportunity to pay forward kindness and be generous.
What is it about this small act of kindness that speaks to us? I think it recognizes the truth that we have all had times where we needed help or support, moments in our lives where we fell on hard times, or felt alone. The caffe sospeso is an act of solidarity, an act of honouring the humanity in us all. It also allows us to be generous with one another. Even the smallest acts of kindness can have a massive impact on those who receive them, just like the woman who bought me coffee so many years ago. She had no way of knowing why that job interview was so important. I had been unemployed for 10 months, and as a single mom it was a scary time in my life. Her act reminded me that I wasn’t alone, and to look for the kindness around me. It gave me hope.
What small acts of kindness could you do to make a difference for your friends and family? Could you make a card for your mom or dad, letting them know why they are special to you? Perhaps make your friend or sibling a snack. Growing up my mom would give us no-day gifts, small things just to let us know that she cared about us. You could do some weeding or take the garbage out for the neighbour. Perhaps you could even tell your teacher some nice things, and thank them for being your teacher.
Perform a small act of kindness for no other reason than you can, you have no idea the difference you will make in someone else’s life.