It turns out that it did not happen at a Burger King or in Danville. And the high school principal was there when the story was told, but he was not involved in the incident. And this is why we check out facts before we print them in the newspaper.
But it was a great story and it was retold locally - in a sermon by Associate Pastor Mark Wollan at Community Presbyterian Church in Danville on Aug. 30 to be precise. Turns out that CPC has all its sermons on audio at its Web site and I was able to listen from home. So I will retell the story here.
Wollan read an account from a man who recalled being at a drive-through Starbucks one morning right before the Christmas holidays in 2007. There was a long line, and the driver behind him could not quite pull up to the speaker to place his order. He angrily honked his horn to make the man in front of him pull up but he couldn't because there was no place to go. He honked and honked in a very obnoxious manner as they proceeded to creep along toward the payment window.
The first man looked in the rear view mirror to check out the aggressor. "The face behind me was twisted in anger and hate," he related. "Then I looked in mirror and my face didn't look much different." This rattled him because he was a person who consciously worked for peace and balance in his life.
He knew he had three options. First of all, he could start a fight. Second, he could yield and beg the angry man for forgiveness. But he also knew there was a third door that could be opened, although usually the third option requires some creativity, which he managed to provide.
When it was his turn to pay, he told the cashier that he'd like to pay for the guy behind him, too, and offered a $10 bill. The cashier was surprised and said, "But he's a jerk." He said the man was just having a bad day and he'd like to pay for him.
"It's a random act of kindness?" asked the cashier. But the man responded, "Not really. I'm doing it for me." Then she told him that the man behind him had ordered breakfast for five people and it would cost a lot more than $10. So he pulled out his credit card and handed it over. "Are you sure?" asked the cashier. "Do it," he said. And he went on about his day.
Six hours later the man arrived home to an answering machine full of messages including a call from NBC. They had used the information on his credit card to find him and tell him that the chain of people paying for the car behind them had lasted far into the afternoon.
There are several lessons to be learned here. One is that the Starbucks in other places are much more elaborate than ours. The other is the lesson the pastor was imparting: to react to hatred with love. And that we need to be creative to turn a situation around when people approach us in a violent, negative way.
A few years ago random acts of kindness were all the rage. Especially at the Bay Bridge toll booths, people would pay for the car behind them and be very pleased to have done so. A Random Acts of Kindness Foundation was even begun in 1995 as a resource for people committed to spreading kindness.
But the Starbucks incident was a random act of consciousness rather than a random act of kindness. The man who first paid had done something for someone else, which also had turned him from an angry victim into a loving human being.
I love this lesson and can't wait to apply it. So if you see me on the street, please feel free to approach me in anger. I will try to be as creative as the man in the drive-through.
--Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.