The Kindness Of Perfect Strangers

Burt Kempner


“‘Your groceries. I’d like to pay for them.’ Check for hidden camera. None in sight. ‘But . . . why?’ ‘It’s something I do.’”Burt Kempner

Pinhead Angel

By Burt Kempner 

The unexpected hand . . .

The unexpectedly generous hand . . .

Burt KempnerGAINESVILLE Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—12/7/2015—“I could watch you shop all day.”

That was a new one. When you reach a certain age, pick-up lines mutate from, “Sail my way, Dreamboat,” to “Hey, you don’t smell like Ben-Gay!”

I stared at the round-faced, pleasant-looking young man ahead of me on line in the supermarket, determined to come up with a witty riposte. “Pardon?” (That wasn’t it.)

“I noticed you while you were walking down the aisles. You seem like a very happy man.”

Stop goggling, you nimrod! Say something. “I do my best.”

The young man nodded, as if digesting a particularly tasty morsel of wisdom. “I know. I hope you don’t think I’m being weird or something, but I’d like to buy your groceries today.”

“You . . . what?”

“Your groceries. I’d like to pay for them.”

Check for hidden camera. None in sight.

“But . . . why?”

“It’s something I do.”

“But . . . why?”

We shook hands. The man introduced himself as Jamie.

“Are you a vet?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“I served in the first Iraq War; then in Afghanistan.” Everything about Jamie was youthful but his eyes.

“I should be picking up your bill.”

Jamie’s smile was the first sign of shyness I’d seen in him. “I don’t go out very much. I go to the supermarket about once a month but, when I do, I always pay for the person just ahead or behind me on line.”

A cleverer man might have asked why. I was too preoccupied conjuring up visions of nightmares and PTSD. The check-out clerk interrupted my dark reverie.

“That comes to $180.”

“Look, Jamie, this is really nice of you, but $180 is a nice chunk of change and I can well afford it.”

“Please, I insist.”

A frozen tableau right off the frozen food aisle: Jamie, holding out his credit card, the open-jawed clerk and Yours Truly glancing down as if my package of sun-dried tomatoes contained the answer.

A few seconds went by. Perhaps more. I don’t remember.

“That’s amazingly kind of you, Jamie. Thank you. I accept.”

The entire check-out line seemed to go back to the business of breathing again. The clerk swiped Jamie’s card. It cleared. We shook hands again and he left.

The clerk began loading my cart. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” he muttered.

I know. I know. Jamie could have given the money to someone who really needed it, not shoppers at a semi-affluent food emporium. But when angels descend, is it up to us mortals to give them landing instructions?

As it turned out, the next morning I sent a check for $181 to a local homeless/disabled vet center. I hope I did right by you, Jamie, my benefactor, my teacher.

Note: The illustration for this column derives from

Burt Kempner

About Burt Kempner

Burt Kempner has worked as a scriptwriter in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Florida. His work has won numerous major awards, and has been seen by groups ranging in size from a national television audience in the United States to a half-dozen Maori chieftains in New Zealand. His documentaries have appeared on PBS, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, CNBC, and European and Asian TV networks. He has two dogs, a cat, a wife and a son and is randomly kind to them all. More recently, Kempner has written three rather subversive books for children: Larry the Lazy Blue Whale, Monty the Movie Star Moose and The Five Fierce Tigers of Rosa Martinez. Visit his Amazon author page:
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3 Responses to The Kindness Of Perfect Strangers

  1. Avatar Anita Sullivan says:

    Thanks for this wonderful story, Burt. I love how it doesn’t fit into any categories. I guess the kindness of strangers is probably a natural force, akin to nuclear, and it just goes on quietly sending out its energy on a “just in case” basis. Thanks for reminding us.

  2. Avatar Danny M Reed says:

    What an experience and what a story! I had something similar. My brother died in August and I used his old truck to move in October. Fully loaded, the front tire blew on the highway and finally a guy stopped from work and took it off since I had no jack or spare. He took me and the flat into town and waited. The tire shop ended up putting a used tire on for free. The guy gave me a ride back and put it back on. I offered to pay since I hadn’t paid for anything as of yet. He refused and asked me to “pay it forward” to someone else as he had done. He was no angel, but flesh and blood has those divine qualities which sometimes come to the rescue of a brother.

  3. Avatar Burt Kempner says:

    Dear Anita and Danny: Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful comments. May a band of angels — in uniform or disguise — descend upon you and bring you peace and satisfaction during these times that offer very little of either. All my very best, Burt

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