Bagels and Diamonds

Today I was at my favorite bagel place, and the fans were really blowing. I had to anchor down my numerous napkins (I’m a napkin hoarder and a messy eater) with my phone, but some got away and flew everywhere. Well, mostly to my left.

I was in the middle of ensuring nothing else blew off when the young woman in the table next to me stooped down and picked up like seven of these small white squares from the floor and plopped them on my table, with a shy smile and a nod.

I thanked her, of course. But the prevailing thought in my mind was, did she really just put items that were on the ground right next to my food?

And it got me thinking. I felt as if I had experienced a special moment of the human condition. An act of kindness that wasn’t wanted.

After all her thought process must have been so simple. Lady in need! I will be a good person. But did she honestly expect me to use those napkins?

This misunderstanding felt magical almost. Two strangers at odds over something very trivial. The well-meaning good samaritan, and the consumer with standards in hygiene. Misdirection.

And that I was obligated, not to mention obliged, to thank her, was also interesting. It was an act of condescension, but she’d never know it. I always hated when that happened in science fiction (for it seems to happen the most in science fiction), when groups of people are told misinformation for the greater good. It always seemed so petty and disrespectful. People should just have to deal with the truth, or so I always thought.

Apparently, on the small scale, that is not what I think. I could have been moderately polite, and said, “No thank you!” It may have offended her but it would have been more honest. But I didn’t.

She also reminds me of the fairy who gave a maiden a gift for giving her a glass of water when the fairy was disguised as a poor thirsty old woman. That gift was that whenever the girl would speak, diamonds and jewels would come out of her mouth. The tale is called “Diamonds and Toads” (and I loved it as a child) but I was thinking of it in terms of a cynical retelling by Gail Carson Levine, “The Fairy’s Mistake.” In “The Fairy’s Mistake,” the gift becomes a curse, for people seek to exploit the girl as a source of bountiful diamonds and jewels.

It was a gift gone wrong. Many of us have experienced a gift gone wrong, particularly if we have ever been given clothes as a birthday present. There is always something sad about it, and the curious thing is, the recipient always feels guilty. They feel how unfair it is that something that should have been good, isn’t.

And now we’ve come to it. Today I experienced in microcosm, that the world if full of tragedy, big and small.

But I wasn’t sad about it. I had two delicious bagels to look forward to (yes, two). I quietly tucked the dirty napkins into the paper bag I intended for the garbage and moved on.

Let’s all continue to try to be good, and as for the rest of us: let’s just move on.