It was their 39th wedding anniversary, one year and eight months ago. He and his wife stepped out for a nice dinner of steak and lobster. At the restaurant, they were seated next to another couple, and the pairs exchanged hellos and pleasantries.
"We're celebrating 39 years," he told the couple.
"That's wonderful," they replied.
When the waiter brought their bill, long after the other couple had gone, he told them, "The bill's been taken care of."
The couple, with whom they'd only exchanged pleasantries, had paid their bill before they left. It was a random act of kindness, they told the waiter, and they wanted the husband and wife of 39 years to do nothing in return except pay it forward.
And last night, he paid it forward. To me.
I like to play the game of "just how many miles can I make it once my gas light turns on?" And last night I learned: you'll make it as far as the exit ramp off the highway, where you'll become stranded at dusk when your car runs out of gas. A gas station was located just off the exit, so I was in luck, but it was still quite a hike.
I had just started walking up the exit ramp when the nicest man, probably in his 60s, pulled over and offered his help. It's probably the last thing a 25-year-old woman should do, get into the car with a strange man, but his demeanor told me otherwise. He was genuine - there is hope for mankind.
He drove me to the gas station, and even paid for the gas that I had to pump into the newly purchased gas can. When we returned to my car, he poured the gas into the tank, and waited by the driver's side to be sure the car would start. It did. His own daughter was about my age, he told me, and he wouldn't want her stranded off the highway. He had the kindness of a father.
I thanked him profusely. I was unable to wrap my head around the fact that a complete stranger had done this for me. And then he told me the story of his 39th wedding anniversary. He'd been looking for the perfect opportunity to pay it forward, and there I was. He then told me to do the same, pay it forward.
And when I find the perfect opportunity, I will. And I won't forget the night someone paid it forward to me.