In the dining hall of the college where I work, everyone knows when it’s carrot cake day. Word spreads like cream cheese frosting-covered wildfire. Normally, diners can wait until their lunch is over before perusing the dessert case. Plenty of time to get those cranberry blondies, folks. No need to shove.
Today it was indeed carrot cake day (I knew by 10 a.m. because I’m friendly with the ladies in the kitchen) but I forgot to pick up my slice when I grabbed my ziti with bell peppers and sausage backed by a ham and cheese panini. Just as lunch was winding down, I remembered. I waddled over to the place they keep the desserts and noticed that there were only two pieces left. As I reached into the case with my silver, crumby tongs, I felt someone behind me. I turned and saw a nice lady, obviously a visitor because she was wearing a lanyard with a name tag attached. We smiled at each other. I put one piece of carrot cake on my dish. If she hadn’t come along, I would have taken the other. Instead, I turned and asked her if she wanted the last piece. I noticed she had been eyeing it expectantly. Yes, she said. I relinquished my tongs.
I’m not telling you this to show how special and kind I am. When we give gifts, or perform charity, we’re not supposed to let the right hand know what the left hand is doing, as Jesus said. If we give with any expectation of reward, then we haven’t truly given, the Buddha echoed. I’m telling you this because this little exchange is what keeps our society from completely and irreversibly blowing apart. Today, it was me. Tomorrow it could be you, playing the role of either giver or receiver. Who knows? Maybe both in the same day. My karma ran over my dogma, or something like that.
Or maybe the fabric of society has already has been shredded to bits but it’s little acts of kindness like this that can put it back together again. I could have pretended I didn’t see her and taken the last two pieces of carrot cake. I think these days, that’s what most people would have done. Just like this parking space I swooped into even though you had your blinker on for two minutes while you waited for the octogenarian to finally remember how to start her car and back it out of her space at the mall, when I want two pieces of cake, I want them, and who the fuck are you to tell me otherwise? It’s my right, right?
Wrong. Give a stranger your second piece of cake. Maybe even your parking space. You’ll both be glad you did.
Who can eat two pieces of cake, anyway?