My Fabulous Wife and I went out to dinner for Mother's Day at our neighborhood Mexican restaurant. Our adult kids are living in other cities, or were at work in this one; I think it was just the two of us for the first time ever. Monterrey's is a middle-class to working-class place to eat, and a young married couple and their three kids arrived and sat across the aisle from us. I'd guess the kids to be 2, 4, and 6 years old. Mom and Dad on one side of the booth; two littl'uns on the other, toddler in a baby chair. A perfect portrait of modest married bliss regardless of job, income, or mortgages.
It occurred to me that I should pay for their dinner. But I didn't want to be seen getting up and sorting it out with the cashier- they'd figure out who had done it, and I wanted anonymity. But because we started eating first, I could take care of it when we left. That way we'd be long gone when they went to pay. No worries.
But they finished first! Aaack! Off they went to the cashier. Too late to treat them on the sly. I got up and and went over to the counter. I said to the mother, "Are you having a good Mother's day?" She was indeed. I asked the kids, "Are y'all being nice to your mama today?" Yes they were! I turned to their father and said, "You have such a lovely family, I'd like to pay for y'all's Mother's Day dinner." He gave me quizzical look. "Really?" I said, "Look, I know what's it's like to take a family out to eat. But all my kids are grown, and I'm past that expense now. So y'all take off and enjoy the rest of Mother's Day." And you would not believe how happy the parents were- just beaming from this little unexpected treat. "Wow...thank you so much!" "Truly, it's my pleasure, 'bye now!" "Bye!"
Here's my point- I was wrong to think I should have done this without being seen. The human aspects of the exchange would have been missed, and that would have been a loss for all of us. I'd say that the act of freely giving and accepting this small gift counted for more than the meal itself. At the same time, although they saw me and spoke to me, I remain anonymous.
And without a doubt it was the best dinner I ever bought.