I wasn’t having the greatest morning when I got to Guglhupf at opening time. I’m in the last couple months of my second pregnancy, i.e., ungainly, and had a slight head cold that had kept me up snuffling most of the night. Worse, though, was that I was at the bakery that morning not as a special treat for myself and my son, but to pick up breakfast for friends who were having a far more difficult time that day than I was. One pregnant friend had a pre-term labor scare that had sent her to the hospital. Another friend’s mom was also in the hospital after a car wreck that had left many bones badly broken. A number of family members had flown in and I had volunteered to bring breakfast to all of them.

I was next in line, clutching the cream of the day-old crop, ready to order more pastries and a large coffee and begin making the rounds to friends in need. I suddenly became aware of the man in front of me. He turned in my direction and told the cashier: “And whatever she’s ordering.” I was a bit puzzled: Was he at a loss as to what baked delight to order, so he wanted to just follow my lead? The cashier must have looked puzzled, too, as he clarified, stating his intention to pay for my goods.

I don’t think anyone really knows how to graciously accept spontaneous, face-to-face generosity from a stranger. It is even harder when you are tired, slightly sick and preoccupied with friends’ troubles. I am sure in one instant my face registered many things: confusion, embarrassment, perhaps even, inexplicably, annoyance. In the next instant, however, it did all fall together for me: This man, for reasons only he knows, was moved to help a stranger on the very day that I was helping others.

The most intriguing part about the incident was that he himself was very offhand and casual, even matter-of-fact, about his generous gesture. There was no self-congratulating grin, no self-conscious glance around the crowded bakery to see who was aware of what was going on. He didn’t even give a reason for his impulse. I was about to ask his name, and started staring very hard at the tiny lettering on the credit card he was passing to the cashier, but then just looked away, cast my eyes in the direction of the bretzel case, and thanked him, I hope many times, but perhaps just a couple, for his kindness. I was tingling as I walked out to the patio to eat my own breakfast, mulling over the power of a good act–it can’t efface sorrow, but it can ameliorate it. I later broke down weeping in my car while relaying the story to my husband on the phone. Perhaps this man will find these words and will know that this moment of seemingly effortless generosity will radiate for a long time.