When I consider all the great gifts I received last year, one zooms to the forefront of my mind. It was a random act of kindness that cost less than $1.50, but it was priceless because it cured me of PLUM: Poor Little Ugly Me disease. You know, those terrible times when we feel worthless, wretched and ashamed.

A Day of Self-loathing

My last flare-up of PLUM occurred in August. I clashed with a neighbor about our delinquent kids, and less than an hour later—still prickly with rage—I quarreled with my best friend. Then I got into a shouting match with my son about his slovenly habits. Exhausted from battling, I lapsed into a despondent coma of PLUM disease.

I spent the night reliving the arguments. Accusations and rebuttals echoed in my ears like buzzing gnats. The next morning I moved in a fog. I sipped sweet coffee, but bitter regret coursed through my veins. I’m a horrible person. I should be more diplomatic. I stink at being a friend. 

But I couldn’t wallow in remorse all day. My yowling cats were out of kibble, and I had errands to run. I climbed into the car followed by my black cloud of shame. I bought pet food, dropped off dry cleaning and mailed a package. At each stop, I couldn’t shake my growing sense of paranoia. Were the employees and patrons judging me? Laden with guilt, I staggered out of the post office. Only one thing could improve this situation: a sugary treat from the bakery.

Sweet Surprise

My tires squealed as I swerved into the parking lot of Great Harvest Bread Company. I yanked on a ball cap and hauled my lousy self into the lobby. Cinnamon tickled my nose; goodies beckoned from the shelves.

When the clerk appeared, I tapped the display case and said, “I’d like an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, please.”

The customer standing behind me boomed, “Give that woman a cookie! And I’m gonna pay for it. She’s a nice lady. Oh, and I’ll have one too.”

I spun around and my brows shot skyward. It was “Rick the Paint Guy,” a color-specialist who had advised me through dozens of home improvement projects.

“I haven’t seen you in ages,” I said.

“I don’t work at the paint store anymore.” He grinned. “I run a yard service now.”

No wonder he had grass clippings stuck to his face. “You’re very kind,” I said, “but you don’t have to buy me a cookie.”

“No, I insist.” He nudged my elbow. “I want to buy you a cookie.” Rick passed a $5 bill to the clerk.  

My lumpy Grinch-heart began to swell. “Thank you very much.”

We chatted a bit, then I wished Rick well and left with my gift. I walked out of Great Harvest, wearing a smile. I couldn’t get over it. A guy I hadn’t seen in five years bought me a cookie. Because I’m a nice person. Because I deserve it. 

Needless to say, it was the best cookie I’d ever eaten.

Kibosh of the Pity-Party

Over martinis that night, I told my husband about the beautiful gesture. I became so overwhelmed that I burst into tears. He thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care. I understood the validating power of that cookie. It gave me the strength to resolve the arguments with my neighbor, best friend and son. PLUM lay vanquished; harmony was restored.

In honor of Random Acts of Kindness Week, I plan to follow Rick’s example. Sometimes a friendly smile, kind words and a free cookie are the best—and most affordable—gifts of all.

Olive is a local freelance writer with a wicked sweet tooth.

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