I woke up without my daughters for the first Christmas in 16 years on Dec. 25, 2008. I was missing their company -- and their delight at the day and the season.
There had been (unusually) snow that week, and I was setting out on the 90-minute drive to get them from their mother's home.
Stopping at Starbucks on the way, I ordered my usual, and was told by the barista there was no charge.
A previous customer, it turned out, had bought a gift card, handed it back to the barista, and told her to buy coffee for everyone until it was used up.
I was inexplicably moved. I took my coffee and sat outside the store for a few minutes, watching light snow fall, sipping my coffee, and silently thanking the stranger who had just turned a tough Christmas morning into a tender and special one.
Before leaving, I went back inside, pulled out a much-needed $20 bill, bought a gift card, and asked the barista to use it up on the next few customers.
As I get ready to drive north for my daughters this year, I am ridiculously excited about the $20 in my wallet, set aside to buy coffee for strangers, and feel -- however briefly -- like an excited young father once more, anticipating the delight of a Christmas morning surprise.