Once in a while, something unexpected happens that lifts my spirits sky high, and the effect lingers.

Last week I ordered my “usual” at our favorite Mexican restaurant. I’m stuck right now on Chicken Verde Enchiladas with black beans. This little place is our favorite mostly because it’s quiet enough to have a decent conversation. The food is unusually good and the amount on the plate doesn’t stuff your gut or require antacids when you get home. Besides, it’s only five minutes away and never crowded. In short — fits us to a tee.

This time our server was clearly having a bad day. No smiles, no eye contact, no pause for our usual conversation. On the other hand, it was the end of a really good day for us so by the end of the meal we’d agreed to help lift her spirits with a big fat tip. By fat I mean a $20 tip on a $20 tab. I suppose this is what Bill Gates does all the time, but it was a first for us and feeling rich for that moment made me smile. She picked up the two tens mumbling about getting change, and didn’t hear my husband’s, “We don’t need change.”

Here’s the best part. As we crossed the parking lot to the car, out she comes waving a $20 bill as if we forgot something! Even though we explained that we wanted her to have it, she kept repeating “Too much, too much.” The sight of her running across the parking lot as if greeting a long lost friend at the airport is still stuck in my brain.

When she finally understood our intent, she explained her “grumpy” mood. (My word not hers.) Double shift. Double stress. “I just want to get home to my kids,” she said with a squinched face that told the story all by itself. After she thanked us and turned away, we just stood there for the moment, staring at each other. Was that for real? Her honesty floored us.

I’m struct by how little it takes to turn a rotten day around. What we did was effortless, just a piece of paper really. What we did was small, but what it did was big.

I’ve had plenty of really bad days myself and sometimes the smallest thing makes a difference. Often it’s just seeing someone smile at me because that triggers a reflex to smile back. And that exchange starts a little ball rolling in a better direction. Even if it’s only a nanosecond, the black cloud starts to thin.

Oh yes, we’ll be back to the Delicias Valley Cafe.