An acquaintance from Boston was visiting Paris last week. We had lunch at a crowded cafe, ironically populated with a number of Americans, and got to know each other better.
He’d read The Old Money Book and The Old Money Guide To Marriage and shared his thoughts about the two. We discussed traditional values and the challenges of successfully imparting them upon subsequent generations: he with his children and me with my writing.
Over two espressos after the meal, he leaned in and lowered his voice. He’d mentioned a new routine that he’d adopted that had brought him considerable joy. I was eager to hear about it, and he explained.
Every week, he makes it a habit to do some random act of kindness or generosity. He had rules: the act was to be random, small, anonymous, and would only involve strangers. He gave his umbrella to a woman stranded under an awning in Beacon Hill during a thunderstorm. He gave two tickets to a Red Sox game to a nurse. He walked an elderly woman to her front door one night to make sure she made it home safely.
The sparkle in his eye and giggle in his otherwise patrician voice revealed just how much this little habit was contributing to his happiness. I was touched, and congratulated him on the good work. He shrugged it off, but it was obvious he was delighted with the emotional rewards this routine gave him.
He had a meeting to go to, so our lunch ended sooner than I wanted. I was staying for another espresso, so we shook hands and said goodbye at the table. My new friend squeezed his burly Boston frame out of the chair, excusing himself to the two ladies who had sat next to us during lunch.
I sipped another espresso, and the two ladies motioned for their bill. The waiter came over and explained in broken English that there was none. Mild confusion ensued, until it was made clear: a gentleman had paid for their lunch on his way out.