The universe would be a better place without most memes, particularly those whose electronic fires get fanned by the internet. But a recent phenomenon, which is not so much internet driven as celebrated, shows our collective capacity for good when one of us gets an idea that others want to copy.

It’s the act of kindness that is picking up someone else’s tab — specifically, stepping in and paying off store accounts accumulated by total strangers.

One of the most prominent examples involved Khalil Mack, whose day job as an outside linebacker for the Chicago Bears belies his soft spot for the people of his hometown, Fort Pierce, Florida. On Dec. 6, Mack disclosed that he’d been in touch with the Walmart there to settle up 300 to 350 layaway accounts, spending about $80,000, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The internet is brimming with similar acts of kindness. The owner of a property management company in Memphis squared away 200 accounts at a local Burlington. Parents of a Walmart manager in Canton, Illinois, settled 79 layaway accounts at his store, according to local news reports. Firefighters in a city north of Tulsa did the same for 25 customers at a store there.

In a similar vein, the singer Sia, known for appearing in a black-and-white bangs that completely obscure her face, turned up sans wig at a Walmart in Palm Springs just after Thanksgiving. Hardly anyone recognized her. She told them her name was “Ci Ci” and she’d won the lottery. She then proceeded to pay for all of their purchases.

Locally, employees of TD Bank raised $3,000 to wipe out layaway balances at the Walmart on Pleasant Valley Street in Methuen. “There are good people out there. This is proof,” Walmart manager Myland Sands said of the donation.

Store layaway programs are useful for anyone, but particularly those of us unsure if we’ll have enough cash or credit on hand in December to cover all of our holiday shopping. Acts like these, helping people most likely to really need it, are especially generous. If Dickens were writing “A Christmas Carol” today, a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge would undoubtedly turn up in a customer service line someplace with checkbook in hand.

Maybe this will be one of those memes that survives the holidays and really spreads throughout the year. Goodness knows the world could use more acts of giving like these.

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