Pay It Forward
Years ago, in that brief and heady time between finishing school and getting married, I was driving home from work one night when my car died. It could have been worse; I was only a block from my apartment, and would have plenty of time the next morning to deal with the matter. But I did need to get it over onto the shoulder for the night, and trying to both push and steer the car was… challenging.
It was after ten o’clock at night, but after only a few minutes of my struggling, a van pulled over beside me and a woman stuck her head out. “Do you need help?” she asked, and she and a friend got out. With their help it was trivial to move my car over to the side. When I thanked them, they assured me it was no problem. Then the woman, as she was turning away, said “Pass it on.”
Those three words had a profound impact on me. (I remember actually staring after the van as it drove away.) At the time I had never heard of the concept of pay it forward, but the simplicity and rightness of it was immediately apparent to me. I am the beneficiary of countless acts of generosity, some tiny and some profound, and most of them I can never pay back. But I don’t need to. All I need to do is to look for opportunities to pass them on.
I try to pass it on whenever I see someone who just needs a few seconds of help, whether it’s a parent struggling with two kids, three bags and a door; or the older woman I once discovered to have slipped and gotten wedged into the back seat of her car. But such opportunities are subject to chance, and hard to schedule as a happiness exercise.
But as I thought over the kindnesses done to me, I realized that there are plenty of opportunities to deliberately pay it forward – calling a friend, donating money, or inviting a struggling family for a meal. Just recently I received a wonderfully supportive note from a friend, and so today I plan to pass that on, sending a similar note to another friend.