Pay It Forward

Pay it forward. We hear this catch phrase so often that I feel its true meaning is somehow lost or diminished. Who remembers the 2000 movie “Pay it Forward” with Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey, and Haley Joe Osment? What a wonderful movie rooted in the spirit of giving, giving without self-centered or self-promoting strings attached. In the movie Haley Joe Osment’s character Trevor, is given a class assignment by his history teacher to devise and put into action a plan that will change the world for the better. Trevor’s plan is to do a favor for someone – a big favor. Rather than payback the favor, the recipient instead chooses 3 people to do a favor for, and so on, creating a ‘Network of good deeds.’ I’m sure we’ve probably all seen the movie, but what a concept. How different would our world be if each of us took the time to do something for someone knowing we could not benefit in anyway personally, professionally or financially. Could we change our world for the better?

Maybe creating a ‘network of good deeds’ isn’t so much about doing a favor, but doing a deed of kindness. How long would it take you to say hello to a stranger and great them with a smile. Would it break the bank to bring a co-worker a coffee, just because? Our lives are so busy, maybe too busy with every waking minute of our day scheduled with some type of activity; be it with our children, family, work or friends – do we really think about giving our time to someone who needs encouragement, a gentle word or human touch.

Several years ago while working as a rep for an ergonomic chair manufacture, I met a young man living on the streets in downtown Houston. Actually the day I met him, (let’s call him Jimmy to preserve his anonymity), Jimmy was asleep on the sidewalk with his feet hanging over the curb into the street where I wanted to park. I made the block a time or two to see if he would wake up and move, but he didn’t. I finally rolled down my window and asked him to move his feet so I could park. I whipped into my prized parking spot, and quickly pulled my demo chair out of the back of my van. Jimmy was filthy from head to toe – and the stench that surrounded him was that of someone who probably hadn’t bathed in weeks or longer; his hair was matted and his skin dusty from the filth of the streets and his clothes were mismatched rags. Immediately my mind jumped to negative assumptions about Jimmy; his personage, his circumstances, his choices. I finished my appointment and when I returned to my coveted parking spot Jimmy was still there; sleeping on the hard concrete without shoes or a blanket, using the curb as a pillow for his head. My heart was troubled because he was so young; most likely in his early 20’s. I sat down on the ground next to Jimmy and asked him his name. I asked him if his Momma knew where he was (being a mom myself, I was grief stricken by the thought that he might be estranged from his family and truly be alone.) As soon as he began to speak, slow and deliberate, I knew that Jimmy wasn’t a drug addict or alcoholic, but mentally challenged. We talked for a few minutes, he was sweet and polite making his Momma proud as he replied to my questions with traditional southern ‘yes ma’am, no ma’am’ answers. I had a couple of dollars in cash and a sandwich I’d packed for lunch that day; I left it all with Jimmy wishing I had more to offer him. There was very little I could do to improve Jimmy’s condition and there was nothing he could do for me. Yet I left that encounter blessed by meeting this young man. Of course I was troubled knowing that this mentally challenged and very young man called the streets of Houston home. I was distressed by the facts that he was not living at home or in a facility that could offer him proper care, but I wanted to leave Jimmy with a vision of kindness. I wanted to treat him the way I would want someone to treat my own child, should they ever be in deep need. I wanted to pay it forward; call it Karma, fate, something spiritual. Call it whatever you want. For me, it was imperative to show love, kindness and humanity to a young man living on the streets of Houston. I’m not looking for recognition or a pat on the back because meeting Jimmy was blessing enough for me! But maybe, just maybe armed with kindness and a spirit of love we can change this world one person at a time. I don’t believe we will see poverty, hunger and pain eradicated in our lifetimes, but I do believe we can eradicate poverty of spirit with a spirit generosity and love; for it is written in the good book, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”

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