Friday, September 21, 2007

Pay it Forward

My post today is triggered by one over on Inside our Hands; Outside our Hearts about a kind act by a stranger.

Anybody remember the "Pay it Forward" movement back a number of years ago? I don't hear much about it these days, although there is a commercial running now that illustrates it. The basic point is, when someone does a nice thing for you, you return the favor by helping yet another person down the line. Here's something about "Pay it Forward."

In the early 1980s I was a grad student at the University of Arkansas making about 500 dollars a month. I had managed, however, to save enough to attend a neuroscience conference in Dallas. (Fortunately, my major professor was driving and let me ride with him.) I stayed at the cheapest hotel I could find, well away from the convention center but at least close enough to catch the bus in every morning. I attended all the talks or parties at the convention where you could find free food, and I ate elsewhere as cheaply as possible.

One evening I was eating at Shoney’s. I had long-hair even then, and was dressed in t-shirt and jeans, one of my few pairs without holes in them. A guy came in carrying a painting he’d done. He came right up and asked if I would buy it so he could afford to eat. I felt horrible for him, but I was eating the cheapest thing they had and after paying for the meal I was going to have less than five dollars in my billfold. I certainly didn’t have the twenty he was asking for the painting. I told him, “Sorry man, but I’ve barely got enough to cover my own meal.”

He thanked me anyway, turned and walked away. I saw him try a few other tables without luck before leaving the diner. Shortly after that I asked my waitress to bring the check, to which she replied, “It’s taken care of.” I asked what she meant and she gestured toward a table where several fellows in their sixties were sitting. “The guy in the gray suit paid for it,” she said.

Stunned, I went over to their table to explain that I had enough to cover my meal. The guy who had paid for me said, “Well I heard what you said about not having much money and I’ve been there myself. Just thought I’d help.” I told him thanks and left, and over twenty years later I still remember it clearly. The guy didn’t know me. I looked scruffy and probably down on my luck. And he reached out, a perfect stranger, to give me a hand.

I wonder if that guy is still alive. I’d sure like to thank him again, and to tell him that I think of him whenever I help someone else.


Bernita said...

A warming story, Charles.
I think these acts of grace and gallantry occur more often than one might believe.

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Wow, that is a wonderful story! I know there is a lot of kindness out there in the world (even though my blog is called Random Acts of Unkindness!) and it is really heartwarming to read stories like this.

Travis Erwin said...

I'm sure someone had done the same for him in the past and he was simply repaying the favor.

Steve Malley said...

Charles, you've touched on one of my own deepest principles. I believe these acts of kindness are actually necessary for human survival.

Plus, doing them feels GREAT...

the walking man said...

I learned early on that it's what you were supposed to do; random acts of kindness to strangers with no thought of reward. I am sure that the spiritual energy you send out to this soul who simply bought a meal for you covers him in warmth whether he be alive or dead.



Farrah Rochon said...

The world would be a far better place if the Pay It Forward concept became "viral".

Great story! I can see why it has stuck with you all these years.

Lisa said...

What a great story. It does my heart good and I think Bernita is right. These things happen far more often than our often cynical world would lead us to think. I also like Farrah's idea of Pay it Forward (or what I loosely call, doing mitzvahs) becoming viral. What if each of us made a point to do one mitzvah -- a good deed with no expectation of anything in return -- every day? It could be paying the toll for the person in the car behind us, paying a parking meter that's about to expire, picking up the tab for someone's meal or coffee, sending a personal note or email to someone to tell them something nice, a kind word to a stranger having a bad day -- there are a million things. I really do believe that kindness is contagious and wow, it really does feel great :)

Michelle's Spell said...

What a great story, Charles! I think that there is a great deal of love and generosity out in the world. Everyone is always down on their luck in some way, I think, so I try my best to be kind even though I don't always make it. But I'm a notorious soft touch and my friends sometimes laugh about it and tell me I'm naive, but I figure I'm improving my karma (which I'm sure needs help) and I'm only responsible for my good intentions, not other people's motives, good or bad. People have been wonderful to me when stuff was going wrong -- I don't forget that.

Drizel said...

Wow....thats really kewl. In ones journey one meet many ppl, some you need to remeber and others just pass by without any notice....The world need more caring.
Have a great weekend.

Anonymous said...

That's pretty nice. I don't think I've had anything quite like that happen to me. I have had people be kind to me in other ways and I to them.

Travis Cody said...

That's a wonderful thing for that gentleman to do. I try to pick up the check for any military personnel who might be in the same restaurant as me.

That always feels like the right thing to do, and it makes me feel like I'm contributing.

Lucas Pederson said...

That's just it, man. Some people need to stop being stuck up pricks and start giving. It's like Karma. What goes around comes around. Well, if folks started giving more, instead of taking so much, perhaps the world would be a better place. Who knows. This was a terrific post, buddy. Warmed the heart a little just reading it. Way to be!

Gabby said...

Thanks for sharing this. I think this is probably true more often than we think. Just yesterday my mom was telling me that a little while ago, on a Sunday morning, she had just left my dad off to dialysis and was on her way to church, when her car broke down. A perfect stranger stopped and helped as much as he could, and eventually gave her a ride home. No reason, just because he wanted to help. I am definitely am a believer of what goes around comes around -- in good and bad.

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernita, I think they do too. I get focused sometimes on the opposite things that happen but I should remember the good ones.

ello, yes, I like to hear these kinds of things too. Makes me feel good.

Travis, probably so.

Steve, it certainly could contribute to human survival. Plus, the world would just be a more pleasant place. And yes, it does make you feel good.

Mark, I was raised that way too, but mostly in practice I saw people helping their family and friends. That's not bad, of course, and is necessary, but helping strangers is also important.

Farrah, I agree. A foul mouthed political joke doesn't take long to make the rounds of the internet. A good deed doesn't travel so fast.

Lisa, yes, it's not really that hard when you think about it.

Michelle, karma is a great concept. I agree that if someone is taking advantage of me it still doesn't eliminate the quality of what I might do for them.

Etain, yes it does.

Jack, maybe you've never looked as scruffy as I have?

Travis, that's a nice thing to do.

Lucas, thanks, and I agree.

Gab, thanks for sharing the story of the guy who helped your mom too. Like you say, it's not as uncommon as we think sometimes.