English Breakfast tea on the right; the usual breakfast (plus All Bran sticks) on the left.

English Breakfast tea on the left; granola and yogurt (+ All Bran sticks) on the right.

This past Monday was a public holiday in the UK and while poor Allan was on lockdown in the library I took a walk in the warm sunshine, ending up in front of the bakery counter at Marks and Spencer (side note: is it still considered exercise if I walk briskly to buy copious amounts of pastries?). It was 30 minutes before closing and all their baked goods had been marked way down – an example of thinking at the margin (“Why yes I have been studying for my health economics exam, thank you for asking!”) – and, never one to turn down a deal, I walked out of there with more fresh, soft, giant, chewy chocolate chip cookies than Allan and I could eat in an entire week.

During my walk back I started thinking about who I could share some of these cookies with. Not wanting to foist more obesity type II diabetes baked goods onto my usual suspects, I suddenly thought of a woman from Japan in my building who I had met just a few weeks before. I knew of her through the weekly Christian group e-mails she sent out (none of which I ever replied to) but had only introduced myself in person a short while ago. I didn’t know much about her, just that she was a physician researcher, had a half-dozen degrees and designations after her name, seemed very kind, loved the Lord and had a school-aged daughter whom she was raising in London alone.

I hesitated before e-mailing her, not knowing if she remembered me or if she would think it odd, but I told her that I had bought too many cookies and had thought of her and her daughter, and wondered if they would like some. She replied thanking me and told me I could drop by anytime that evening. When I set off to find her flat, cookies in hand, I discovered that she lived just across the hallway from me and one door down – and we had never crossed paths before in the hall. We stood in her doorway and chatted politely for a bit about work, the weather and Japanese cooking. When I turned to leave, she disappeared inside her flat and then returned with a box of English Breakfast tea, which she said was her mom’s very favourite tea and her requested gift every time she returned to Japan. I was embarrassed to take it, her box of tea being much more generous than my cookies in a Ziploc bag, but she insisted, and we smiled and promised to look out for each other in the hallway from now on.

I had a strong cup of the English Breakfast tea this morning and thought about my mom, who told me that this weekend she had been reminded that it is more blessed to give than to receive; I thought about how it is a blessing to be able to give and that though it is not the point, often you get back more than you give. I hope for myself and my neighbour across the hall, what we both get back is a new friendship.

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