The Effects of Simple Generosity

Julia - Spokane, Washington
Entered on February 14, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
  • Listen to This I Believe on RadioPublic

  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

I believe that one never knows how profoundly their simple generosity affects others.

It was a beautiful summer day, just the perfect balance between warm heat and cool breeze. I arrived at work in the afternoon, put on my apron and received my section assignment.

As I brewed coffee and got out the lemon wedges, my first table was sat. He was an older man, probably in his seventies, dining alone. I quickly poured a glass of water and approached the table.

“Hi there, how are you?” I asked smiling as I set the glass of water down on the table.

“Oh, I’m doing fine” he said without hesitation. “Now, I don’t want to be in the way, but I’d really like to have a nice dinner this evening. I don’t want to be rushed, is that okay?”

“Absolutely,” I said nodding my head. “May I bring you something to drink?”

He ordered a gin martini. I went to the bar, retrieved his martini and in no time was back at the table. As I set down the martini he asked

“What do you suggest?”

“Well, what are you in the mood for tonight?”

“Oh, I just want something that tastes good” he shrugged.

I described and pointed to my favorite dish, an Alaskan sockeye salmon filet. He ordered it with a small Caesar and asked me to give him some time before I brought anything.

“Of course!” I told him my name and to “just give me a wave” when he was ready.

After bringing his next martini he told me that he was ready. I paced him along for the rest of the meal, delivering the entrée just after he finished his salad, refilling his water only once. We didn’t speak much during this time. Just when he was about to finish his entrée he asked

“So what’s for dessert?”

I went through the list of desserts orally and he settled on the crème brulee. I made the dessert and took it to the table with a cup of coffee.

“Thank you so much” he said “sorry if I caused you any problem.”

“You’re not a problem at all” I winked.

“You know, I want to tell you that you’ve done a wonderful job tonight. I had a hard day. I…” he paused. After only a second, I noticed that he was starting to cry. “I had to bury my wife today. We were married over forty years.”

“Oh my gosh,” I said, my smile fading “I’m so sorry. I know that doesn’t help, but…”

“No you’ve been just wonderful.” He said regaining his composure. “I was having such a hard day and didn’t even remember that I hadn’t eaten…”

I can honestly say that no one has affected me as that man did. In a time where it almost seems that being self-absorbed is not only mainstream but celebrated, my experience with this man teaches me that generosity affects us both uncertainly and profoundly.