Viral stories of people helping strangers pay for groceries are inspiring other acts of kindness

"Do good recklessly."

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You're standing in line at the grocery store, and the person in front of you has their card declined. You know nothing about this individual, except that they can't pay for the items that have been rung up.

Maybe she's a single mom who's struggling to make ends meet, or maybe she's an addict who spent her kid's diaper money on drugs. Maybe he's a veteran living on disability, or maybe he's a scammer trying to mooch off of kind-hearted strangers. There's no way to be sure.

So what do you do?

A viral collection of stories about strangers helping strangers in the checkout line illustrates what it looks like when people choose to "do good recklessly"—and it's just so dang beautiful.

Screenshots posted by Facebook user Ashley Westover have been shared more than 80,000 times. Clearly people like to be reminded that kindness wins the day.

The first story reads:

"I was in line at Aldi and this girl with two toddlers in front of me had her card declined and she looked so fucking sad and said 'let me call my husband real quick' and it was only 18 dollars, so I just paid for it, and she was very sweet and then as she walked off, the lady behind me said 'You know that was probably a scam, right' and like, even if it was, like what a sad fucking scam, right? 18 dollars at the Aldi. If you're 'scamming' me for some Tyson chicken and apple juice and cauliflower, then just take my fucking money.
'A scam' people are fucking wild.'"

Another person then chimed in:

"This happened to me, too. A woman had used WIC for the majority f her stuff (which I say from personal experience is such a long and embarrassing process) and to buy the remainder of her groceries, which included diapers and wipes, she used a card, and it got declined. I bought the other $30 of her groceries because hey, I've been there, and now I'm not. She was extremely emotional and began to cry and even hugged me. My mom called me on the drive home and could tell I had been crying myself, asked what was wrong, and when I told her what happened, she berated me for being 'duped.' I couldn't believe she could be so disappointed in one of her children for doing something—nice? Is that the hill you want to die on? Getting mad about people needing groceries?"

This mom's viral story of strangers' kindness illustrates how it truly 'takes a village.'

Next up came a person who helped a woman with a vet bill:

"I once paid for a woman's bill at the vet...it wasn't a big one, but she was trying to pay for some medication for her dog, and her card was declined. And her lip started trembling, and she says 'I don't get paid until Tuesday, would he be ok until then?'
So I just told them to add the $20 something onto my bill, and I thought she was going to break down crying right there.
And I don't care if it was a scam or not. Just do nice things for people sometimes."

And another shared a story about how their dad served as an example of generosity:

"One time, my dad and I were living [sic] the grocery story and there was a guy outside asking for money to buy some stuff to take home for his kids. It was around Christmas time. My dad asked him if he could give him groceries instead of money, and the guy immediately said yes, so my dad gave him one of everything we bought (meant, rice, some chocolates, milk, oil). At that time, my dad hadn't gotten his paycheck because the company he worked for was going through a tough time, but he didn't care, he saw an opportunity to help someone and he did.
Another time, my dad gave 50 bucks to a guy who said he needed to buy medicine for his kids. I told my dad he was probably going to spend the money on alcohol or something, but my dad said that 'whether he was lying or not says something about HIS character, but hearing someone in need and choosing not to help when I have the means to says something about mine.'

I never forget that."

Finally, somoeone shared a personal story from the receiving end, bringing it all full circle:

"So this has happened to me but from the other side. Several years ago when my oldest was around three or so, I had my debit card decline at Walmart. It wasn't a scam or a mistake, I was genuinely broke. Out of money. I checked my bank and discovered I had something like 7 dollars left to my name and a hungry kid and nothing to eat at home. So I sat there trying to come up with the best way to stretch that tiny amount of money to feed my kid. Not even to feed me. I can live on popcorn or something if I have to but my kid was three and he had to eat.

So there I am trying really hard not to cry while I slowly take things out of my basket to get it down to under 7 bucks, when a lady tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up and she smiled at me and started putting the things back in my cart. I opened my mouth to tell her that I didn't have the money for them but she stopped me right away and said 'Don't worry about it. It's gonna be fine.' Then she handed the cashier her credit card and said 'Ring up all of it.' My kid got to eat because of her. I got to eat because of her. I had laundry soap and deodorant because of her. She could've just ignored me silently struggling in that line. She could've decided I was a scam and gone home feeling good about avoiding being duped. But instead she chose to help me and she saved us.

So maybe the person struggling in front of you is trying to put one over on you or maybe they are just sad and broke and trying to figure out what to do. You get to decide which you want to believe and what you want to do. But I'll tell y'all, no one has ever been more beautiful to me than that lady in that line who saved me and my baby. Be like her. Be beautiful."

A simple, three-word response summed up the whole beautiful thread: "Do good recklessly."

Isn't that the best life motto? Put it on t-shirts. Stencil it on walls. Tattoo it on biceps. DO GOOD RECKLESSLY.

Imagine a world where people gave one another the benefit of the doubt more often than not. Imagine a world where we all assumed the best in people. Would we sometimes get taken advantage of? Probably. Would we be helping people more often than we were being duped? Definitely.

There's a place for wisdom, and no one is saying not to ever be wary of scammers. But situations like these stories are times when assuming the worst may leave someone feeling alone and hopeless. Imagine a world where more people did good recklessly.

That's the world I want to live in.

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Today, I'm a 35-year-old man with a flame shaved into my beard. If the '80s movies I love so much are any indication, this is a sure sign I'm going through some kind of existential crisis. Next week, when the semester starts and I begin teaching again, it will not be strange if my colleagues start to worry about me just a little. A sports car or a neck-jerking pivot to physical fitness — that's an understandable response to the realization that life is fleeting. But a large meticulous flame carved out of facial hair? What does one do with that?

At this moment, though, I'm showing my face proudly to a woman wearing a swimsuit with a taco cat on it. We have only recently met, but she's telling me that she's so into my "fade" that she wants to kiss it. Then she does, blowing a raspberry into my cheek so hard that her hat falls off. Neither of us can stop laughing.

"Live Mas!" she yells with the excitement of someone who's never had trouble fully seizing the moment.

"Live Mas!" I shout back without any irony. There is no irony here in Palm Springs, where, for four days only, hundreds of people celebrate their love for Taco Bell.

Here, there's only swimming and hot sauce-themed leisure wear, and the warm pleasant feeling that comes from eating too much and knowing that you're with your own people. Even if the only thing that connects you is a love for a fast food giant that feeds you when you're hammered and shameless at 2 a.m.

We drank the Baja Blast! My Taco Bell fade and my friend's specialty manicure!Mark Shrayber

What does it mean to Live Mas? This is a question I am forced to ask myself over and over during my 24-hour stay at "The Bell," where I have stowed away as a friend's plus-one. We are, of course, both politely pretending that I'm a full-on guest with all the perks that entails, but we also both know that I wouldn't be here eating unlimited quesadillas poolside without her.

So maybe that's the first thing Live Mas means: To build strong lifelong connections which you can, with some luck, exploit to your benefit. :) :) :)

But this is too cynical an interpretation, because everyone here is so happy. Happy that they've gotten a reservation; happy that they can cool off in a room themed after an iconic Mountain Dew Drink, and happy that they can share their own personal story of what Taco Bell means to them. (Though there's no formal essay contest — I've checked.)

Me: This room won't be that cool. Also me: OH MY GOD, THIS IS THE COOLEST ROOM I'VE EVER BEEN IN!!!Mark Shrayber

Snatches of this story float around the "Fire" pool, where all the entertainment is concentrated: One couple canceled their trip to Prague because "Prague will always be there" — a brave stance considering climate change; another met last year on Tinder after the girlfriend's Taco Bell senior photos went viral; at the opening ceremony on Thursday, where sauce packets were cut instead of a ribbon, a city official brought others to tears with both her Taco Bell fashion and a memory of how her parents would feed an entire family with 19-cent-tacos from the first-ever Taco Bell in Downey, California.

Oh, I forgot one: The guy who skipped out on Prague? He got a giant bell shaved into the side of his head, so he might have to miss out on a black-tie event happening later this week. But it's all good. Bring on the nacho fries.

I make fast friends with four women who are here for a bachelorette party, the bride overwhelmed with good vibes and prosecco. This year, for her 30th, she rented a party bus. Inside? $100 worth of Taco Bell that her fiancee was worried might not be consumed.

"But little did he know," she shouts in the hot tub where we're "cooling off" after a long day of 108-degree sunning, "we ate it all!"

A bachelorette party and a birthday! We're really living it up (but also staying hydrated.)Mark Shrayber

Others whoop it up at the twist, but we all get it. Though there's no essay contest, I don't mind telling you that when my first boyfriend dumped me 14 years ago, I stuffed my face with chalupas. When I lost a job I really loved four years ago, I once ordered so much Taco Bell that the delivery app of my choice informed me I'd exceeded the maximum number of items they could comfortably fill in one order. We get it — though none of us can truly explain it.

There are, if you look at the The Bell from a literary perspective, many other writers who deserve this experience more than me. They could talk about the blue of the pool. Or the insouciance of youth. Draw parallels between marketing stunts such as this and the end-stage capitalism. Or envision a "Demolition Man" future where Taco Bell is fine dining and none of us know how to use the three shells in the bathroom to get ourselves clean.

And I wish these writers could be here to paint you these landscapes, but what you've got is me, a literal Taco Bell super-fan, and what I'm doing is eating and getting sunburned and taking a synchronized swimming class with the Aqualillies, who refer to themselves as "the world's most glamorous water ballet entertainment," but have very little idea of what to do with 10 eager recruits who can't stay afloat or on beat.


G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S!!Photo courtesy of Taco Bell.

"It's okay," one of the instructors comforts me just before the Tacolilies (the name of our "team") are invited to perform our watery version of "Senorita" — which was supposed to be two minutes long, then 1:15, and has now been judiciously cut down, due to talent, to about 45 seconds — in the bigger pool. "We regularly teach five-year-olds. And you're doing much better."

Usually, I would take offense at such blatant reads, but today I'm unbothered. I'll continue to be so right until I get home and discover that I've left all my electronics on United Flight 5223 (if anyone wants to get them back to me). And even then, I rage at myself for all of five seconds before checking that I've still got what's important: A certificate that says I did not drown while doing water ballet.

It's still there. As is my phone, which is blowing up with messages from people who took pictures of me in what Taco Bell calls its "power suit," and which is best described as "cult outfit, but kinda make it fashion." I bought my husband one, too, and I look forward to the argument we're going to have about holiday cards later.

This is "Live Mas."

I've never been so happy to match with someone else in my life. MaMark Shrayber

Or maybe it's the moment another stranger tells me that we'll be friends forever. Such friendships are forged quickly when you've got less than 24 hours to make lifelong connections and I'm pleased to get the full experience.

"We may never meet again," he says while we're swimming, "but we'll always have this time together."

Then we establish that he lives just across the park from me in San Francisco.

"Aw, man," he says, floating away to take pictures of the people he came with, "I've got lots of close friends I never see because they live across that damn park."

But the sentiment holds.

We Live Mas it on.

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