I ordered bagels last week. Online. From Panera. I do that occasionally, order a dozen bagels for pickup the next morning. This time, though, I wasn’t sure what to expect — bars and restaurants had just been ordered to close for public gathering. I thought there was a pretty fair chance they’d be just plain closed for business, but what the heck, it was worth a shot.
When I got there, the normally jammed parking lot was deserted. It was a bleak moonscape shrouded in an eerie, gray mist. One lone guy was shuffling around on the wet pavement in front of Panera’s door. I parked, got out, and the dude promptly announced there was no one inside. He said he’d placed a paid order online, could see the bag with his name on it through the window, but nobody was in there. I looked and, yep, there were two bags on a shelf, one with my name sat right next to his. We looked at each other. We looked at our bags. We looked at each other again.
I pointed out the lights were on — count on me to state the obvious — which was a good sign. He nodded, then said his wife had tried calling them, but didn’t get an answer. So I peered more intently through the window, muttered something about them surely being in there, when a woman mysteriously appeared walking toward us. Sure enough, she opened the door, asked our names, grabbed the bags off the shelf, and handed them to us.
The poor man was visibly relieved and hugged the bag to his chest. Here was a person deeply invested in his Panera meal. In times like this, when the world is a threatening, unfamiliar menace, we all find tremendous comfort in the known. And for this guy, it was his breakfast from Panera. I smiled and wished him good luck in a future neither of us wanted to imagine.
He looked at me and, with uncommon sincerity, said ‘bless you.’ Then added, ‘we’re all going to need it.’ Well, that did it. My eyes filled with tears, I nodded my head and shrugged my shoulders, and fled to the car. Blubbering the whole way. Do not, amidst this disastrous upheaval, show me any kindness or affection whatsoever. I will sob. And if I start sobbing I may not stop. So, don’t. Please. The kindness of strangers has always left me completely unstrung, I’m not sure why. Maybe because I want to believe in people when there’s so much evidence to the contrary. Maybe because I have no family, so everyone is my family. Or maybe because I’m a sucker for hope.
You see, I’m pretty sure hope can save us from anything. No matter how big or how destructive the calamity is, hope is the one thing that’ll get us back on our feet and moving forward. So let’s do, let’s get up and move on. People need our help, let’s offer it to them whenever and wherever it’s needed. Deal?
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