It was a rotten night, and I was miserable. I’d just finished a memorably bad restaurant shift in which two employees had gotten into a fight. One had swung a plastic bag of very ripe, sliced onions at the head of the other, and the bag had burst—spraying stinking onions all over a row of customers. I was the manager in charge.
There was also mixed rain and snow coming down, and I was on my bike, and it was about 11 p.m., and I had a three-mile ride, all uphill, to my home. I was also broke, and needed to get some cash. Did I mention I was miserable?
I skidded my way to the nearest ATM on my bike, put in my card, and punched in my code. Ticky-ticky-ticky, beep-beep-beep. The cash box opened, and there, next to my little pile of bills, was a chocolate donut.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I think donuts are pretty much the apex of culinary achievement. And chocolate donuts? Oh my. Words fail me.
And there I was, at an ATM machine on a snowy, deserted street, near tears after the suckage of a lousy shift at an underpaid job . . . and suddenly, this donut appears. Like a sighting of the Virgin Mary—a divine apparition.
But there was an issue: it was an unwrapped donut.
A lot of things went through my mind in quick succession. “Woman poisoned by ATM donut.” “Fast food worker dies of internal bleeding after eating a razor-filled donut.” “ATM hacker goes on chocolate donut rampage—Harvard Square terrorized.”
What to do?
As Quaker-Preacher-Biker Peggy Senger Morrison says, the goddess of safety is a bitchy and demanding goddess. The goddess of safety, in that moment, wanted me to sacrifice the pinnacle of American culinary glory on the altar of Sensible Precaution. The goddess of safety wanted me to say no. After all, what kind of fool eats an unwrapped donut from a big city ATM machine?
But as Senger Morrison also says, all that is wrong with the world is the difference between grace extended and grace withheld.
I would add: grace refused. That donut was grace extended. Was I going to say no?
I made a choice that night. I made a choice to trust the benevolence of the universe and the possibility of grace and the last ATM user, who I like to picture putting a donut in the cash box and grinning as they imagined the next user’s reaction.
Thirty-five years later, alive to tell the tale, I am grinning to myself as I think about that donut—and the importance, now and then, of saying yes to something as preposterous and possibly risky as a chocolate donut of unknown provenance in an ATM. Of saying yes to something as preposterous and possibly risky as grace.