On Friday, Panera gave me a little reminder with my mac n' cheese.
My brother, John, and I were headed home to Chicago for the weekend and left Oxford around 5:30 p.m. John insisted we stop at Chick-fil-A for dinner and I agreed, despite the closest one on our route being nearly two hours away.
Traffic inched along and I grew more and more impatient. When we finally glimpsed that wonderful red-and-white sign and pulled into the parking lot, my brother discovered that, although the restaurant was technically open, it wouldn't be serving food for another four days.
Visibly annoyed, I scanned the parking lot for other ideas, desperate for a drive-through and mac n' cheese.
Panera offered both.
John and I placed our orders of mac n' cheese at the window, pulled forward and waited for the one customer in front of us to collect their food. Fifteen minutes crawled by, and the only sign of life within the pick-up window was a lonely beverage accompanied by a straw that was passed to the waiting car.
At this point it was 7:45 p.m. and John is a diabetic, which requires him to eat regularly to avoid low blood sugar.
When we finally reached the window, my brother asked, "What's going on there, man?"
The Panera guy looked a bit confused, but my brother explained his health condition, saying he needed to eat and asked for a lemonade.
Within 30 seconds, the Panera guy handed him a large lemonade - free of charge - and asked if he needed anything else.
There's a lot of bad things going on in the world, from the continual political battles to the ridiculous recurring Twitter fights. It's gotten to the point where news organizations have started grouping content and categorizing it as "Good News."
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And, honestly, most days, we could all use some good news.
That guy at Panera doesn't know it, but his decision to act quickly, free of any attitude or rudeness, made a difference. It made a difference to my brother who needed a quick boost of sugar and appreciated being treated like an adult. It made a difference to me who, like lots of us, can sometimes forget there is still good in the world.
That's a real cliche, but we all need a reminder that we can greet negativity with positivity.
A recent news story about a little boy from Florida who was bullied after wearing a homemade t-shirt with the University of Tennessee (UT) logo taped to it wrote that UT responded in a big way by deciding to make this little boy's design into a real shirt.
The shirt has 50,000 pre-orders, and the boy's been offered a full-ride to UT.
I read that story and immediately smiled. UT stepped forward and brightened the day of a little boy who really needed it. It was a classic example of helping others, not because you have to, but because you want to.
We're surrounded by a pretty self-centered world.
We've been raised to value our successes and advancements before almost anything else. We compare the quality of our friends, our internships and our vacations to those around us, and we have social media to thank for that.
I'm not trying to say we should all adopt selfless attitudes and never think about ourselves. Instagram isn't terrible and neither is being focused on our own achievements - it just shouldn't be all the time.
A story from Chicken Soup for the Soul captured this concept well. The premise of the story is of a man who is "trying to bring love back to New York" so he goes out of his way to compliment others around him on their work ethic or abilities, hoping they'll take that bit of positivity and share it.
He shrugs off his friend's doubts about the individuals he compliments passing on that kindness to someone else. He resolutely believes there is still good in the world and that he has the power to be a part of it.
He's right. He does. And so do you.