Pay It Forward
It’s common to say that art imitates life, but it’s also true that life imitates art. I saw an example of this recently that reminded me of the possibilities of hope in a cloudy future.
Several weeks ago I stopped at a food market to pick up something from the deli for lunch. Two people were in the check-out lane in front of me, a young woman with a baby in a car seat strapped in her shopping cart and an older, affluent-looking gentleman who might just have stepped off the golf course.
The young woman appeared tired, even depressed. The clerk checked out several cans of baby food and a few odds and ends while she rummaged in her purse for her credit card. Unable to find it, she looked flustered and then raised her head dejectedly.
“I must have misplaced my card,” she stammered. “I’ll have to leave my groceries here and come back.” She looked dejectedly at the floor and began to push her cart and baby away.
Without batting an eye, the gentleman behind her whipped out a roll of bills from his pocket and peeled off two twenties. “Take it out of here,” he told the clerk. “It’s no problem.”
The young woman looked at him in amazement, then in embarrassment. “Oh no, you don’t have to do that,” she protested. “I can pay.”
The gentleman waved her off. “Did you ever see the movie, Pay it Forward?” he asked.
She shook her head. No, she hadn’t.
“Well, in that movie a young boy starts a movement to get people to go out and do something to help another person, even if it’s a small thing. The only thing he asks in return is that the person will pay the good deed forward by helping someone else, and so on, until everyone is paying it forward by helping others.”
The young woman stared back at him in disbelief. Then her face broke into a broad smile. “Thank you,” she replied, her voice almost a whisper. “I’m going to do that.”
It was a beautiful moment. The clerk grinned and bagged the young woman’s groceries, the gentleman paid for his ready-made salad, and in seconds they both were out the door.
“Wow!” the clerk exclaimed when it came my turn to check out. “Wasn’t that nice of him?”
It was indeed. Driving back to the office, I felt my spirits soar, thinking how that simple act of human kindness and connection transformed the common into the uncommon, and crystallized in a few seconds the single, most important reason why we are here on the earth: to help each other.
Then the all too predictable guilt set in. Why didn’t I step up and help that young woman? How many times have
I turned away from people in need, ignored the homeless on the street, or hesitated to offer a word of encouragement to someone in physical or emotional pain? What was
I doing in this world to pay it forward?
Several weeks later, reflecting on the moral clarity of that moment, I am reminded of the literally millions of simple acts of human kindness that occur daily with nary a mention in what passes for the latest information and news of the day. Whether the setting is a grocery store, a hospital, the workplace, the home or a city street, people connect with each other and the environment in deep and powerful ways that transcend narrowly conceived self-interest and infuse the present with what can only be described as the sacred: the presence and power of the divine.
You don’t have to be a member of some organized religion or belief system to participate in the sacred. It arises mysteriously through human connection, and infuses the spirit with the awareness that, in every moment, hope and purpose live alongside despair and meaninglessness, and we have a choice how to respond.
Choice: that’s the power and beauty of it. In that grocery store, I was in the presence of the divine, and I bore witness to the common becoming the extraordinary. The miracle is, each of us has the opportunity to participate in the sacred everyday.
All we have to do is pay it forward.
Feedback? Send it my way: Roger.Hughes@slhi.org.
*The Drift reflects the views of the author, and does not represent the official view of SLHI’s Board of Trustees and staff.