Paying It ForwardI wait tables, and I once served two women whose credit cards were declined and who had enough cash for the meal but not for a tip. I told them not to worry; we've all been there. Ten minutes later, another diner left, and I picked up the payment and a generous tip. With the cash were 10 extra dollars and an unsigned note saying, "I appreciate how kind and gracious you were to those women.... Yes, we have all been there."
Lending a Helping HandWhen my husband returned home to recuperate after a hospital stay, a great friend took all of our laundry―we have four children, mind you―and brought it back a few days later, clean and folded.
After the birth of my first daughter, my best friend surprised me one evening by offering to do the midnight watch. She handled all the diaper changes and feedings, allowing me and my husband to get a full night's rest.
I enjoy raking leaves, but last year I did not have the time or the energy to do it, and my neighbors knew how frustrated I was. One night I came home from work to find that they had raked all the leaves in my yard.
The Dalles, Oregon
When I was in college, my nine-year-old brother gave me a $5 bill for emergencies.
When I moved from Chicago to Vermont, one friend flew from Kentucky to Illinois to help me pack, and another drove 20 hours in the U-Haul with me to make sure I arrived safely.
Kellie Huttes Carrara
When I was in college, my grandmother died. One day two casual acquaintances saw me crying, and without asking what was wrong, they invited me out to lunch. Not only did they cheer me up but I also came away with two good friends.
Hoboken, New Jersey
One Saturday afternoon when I was very pregnant, my husband and I were searching for a table in a congested mall food court. A woman approached us, said that she remembered how good it felt to be offered a seat when she was pregnant, and directed us toward a table that her children were saving for us.
I was starting my own business, and someone I barely knew offered to distribute flyers to his entire real estate firm to help me get exposure. I received a great response, and I have him to thank for my successful start.
During the end of my first pregnancy, I had to use four weeks of sick leave for bed rest. Several of my coworkers donated their sick hours so that I could spend more time with my daughter after she was born.
Coming Through in a PinchIn 2002 I was trying to visit my family in Tennessee for Christmas, but I couldn't find a plane ticket that cost less than $600. A friend knew how disappointed I was, and he gave me a travel voucher he hadn't used.
Denver, Colorado When we were financially strapped, my best friend sent me a beautiful dress to wear to my husband's semiformal office holiday party.
Lake Monticello, Virginia
My mom lost her job when I was a junior in college and could not pay my tuition. To save me from having to drop out, my best friend let me room with her rent-free until graduation.
My roommate and I were between homes and needed a place to stay. Our friend Steven moved in with his parents so we could live in his house. He wouldn't accept any money; he just told us someone had once done the same for him.
The night before my outdoor wedding, the weather forecast predicted a chilly 50 degrees, so we moved the event indoors―but the reception hall at the site had a hideous red-and-green Swiss motif. My brides-maids spent hours decorating the room with white lights and candles. Ironically, it turned out to be a perfect 70-degree spring day, but we celebrated in that beautiful room anyway.
Nyack, New York
I was a senior in college suffering from chicken pox, and I was miserable in the boring, sterile infirmary. My mom flew to New York from Chicago and checked me into a hotel to recover. She played Scrabble with me every day and brought me Italian take-out food every night.
After a busy afternoon at the mall with my children and in-laws, I realized I had lost my car keys. Luckily, my father-in-law had a spare set, and we were able to get home. A few days later, he read a small piece of paper that he had picked up off the ground near the car that day, thinking it was one of his receipts. It was a note from a stranger who had found my keys on the roof, put them under the floor mat, and locked my car so nobody would steal it. The paper was not signed, and my keys were right where the note said they would be.
Princeton, New Jersey
I flew to Tennessee to visit a friend, and when I checked into the hotel, I found that she had paid my bill and had arranged for a vase of roses to be placed in my room.
Expressing Gratitude and Admiration
I was stuck in the airport on my birthday and forced to eat McDonald's for dinner and wait hours for my one-hour flight. When I finally made it home, my friends greeted me at the gate with a birthday cake and a lit candle.
I fly to Europe for business fairly frequently. While I am away, my husband sends me an e-mail every day, and he is not a big writer. This way we do not feel disconnected.
Hillsdale, New Jersey
I love to travel, so some friends arranged for me to live for one week with a family they knew in an Italian mountain village located about 15 minutes outside a small town. The family was kind and hospitable. When I left, the bus drove through the center of town, and I saw the parents: They had ridden their bikes all the way into town just to wave to me as I passed.
Before our first child was born, my husband surprised me with singing lessons. He knew I had dreamed of belting out standards onstage, but I had never so much as sung out loud. After taking the lessons, I was able to sing my children to sleep with confidence.
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