Pay It Forward

Today I “Paid it forward”. I love that term, even though this has become a catchy phrase and the name of a movie (a good one), it still simply means: Do unto others as you would do unto yourself. Not talking about paying the customer’s tab behind you in the drive-thru at Starbucks. Yes, that’s a nice thing to do, but not really paying it forward.  Paying for someone’s drinks at Starbucks is like picking up the tab for someone’s Sax 5th Avenue shopping spree.  If they are shopping at Sax, they can afford to. A person who can afford to stay in their car while it’s running and gas is +3.75 a gallon to order a $3-4 cup of coffee doesn’t need financial assistance either. Paying it forward isn’t just about money; it’s about helping someone, providing assistance, doing a kind turn for someone else.

I’m not going to tell you what I did, because I’m then the focus is on me and that’s not the point I’m trying to make.  All I will say is that I learned of a stranger’s need and I was in a public place and I acted on it.

In 1997, when I was newly divorced and finishing my last semester of college, I was broke, without a job, and going to school on Pell Grants and Student Loans. My ex-husband was a deadbeat dad and I was really, really struggling. My rent w/utilities was around $600, I had a 6-year-old in part-time daycare while I was in class, I was getting food stamps and I had to put gas in the car. That was it. No movies, no shopping, no McDonalds Happy Meals, no extra anything. It was hard; my divorce came at the worst time (school-wise). Being poor wasn’t new to me, but being destitute and kind of desperate was.  But, with the help of several people, I was able to stay in school, keep my child in daycare, and graduate Cum Laude in December 1997.  These are some of the things people did for me without me asking:
  • My mother’s husband wrote me 6 post-dated checks each for $600 dated on the 1st of each month for the last half of the year. Those checks covered my rent.
  • My sister babysat my daughter for free on the one night a week I had an evening class.
  • She also found me a job house cleaning a couple of afternoons a week that paid for the gas in my car.
The only help I asked for during that 6 month period was from a church at Christmastime. I could not afford presents that year for my daughter. An anonymous couple ‘adopted’ my daughter and provided a lovingly selected donation of gifts. This couple specifically requested a 6-year-old girl. They had a little girl who died when she was the same age and every year they adopted someone else’s at Christmas. That year my child was blessed with their In Memoriam gift.

There were other gifts of help during that period too, some from family, some from strangers. I remember all of them and am eternally grateful. I believe that people come into our lives to help us or to teach us and if you cannot see one of those 2 things then maybe it’s you who should be doing the helping or teaching.

Can you remember a time when someone did something completely unexpected or unsolicited in your life?  I would love to hear about it, feel free to share your story in the comments section below.



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