Does anyone remember the movie, “Pay It Forward,” with Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey and Haley Joel Osment? Long story short, a seventh grade teacher (Kevin Spacey) tells his class on the first day of school that they will have a year-long assignment that involves interacting with the world in some way that will make positive change.
One of his students, Trevor (Haley Joel Osment), decides that he will conduct his own experiment by helping three people. His theory is that those three people will each go help three other people, and so on–therefore paying good deeds forward. Unbeknownst to him, the “pay it forward” movement takes off in a big way, affecting many people.
I think that the premise of that movie touched a chord in many people. I often hear of lines of people in fast food restaurants and coffee houses who pay for other peoples’ food and drinks–to the surprise and gratitude of others. Those of us who still pay tolls in the cash lane–how great is it when you hold out your dollar, only to hear that someone ahead of you already paid your toll? Now you can either keep the dollar or pay for someone else’s surprise. Either way, you win!
There was a story I loved in the Kindness Blog recently; a father took his young daughter to a fast food restaurant, bought her a kid’s meal and went into the bathroom. When he came out, his daughter was smiling, but her lunch was gone. When he asked her what happened, she told him that she had seen a homeless man outside who looked hungry, so she gave him her lunch.
The father began to speak sternly to her about approaching strangers and how wrong that was, when she stood up and interrupted him. She said, “Daddy, you told me once that if we can help people we should. That man was hungry, so I gave him my lunch. We have food at home; he probably doesn’t even have a home!” From the mouths of babes….
Each year there are many “secret Santas” who go to store layaway departments and paid the bills for other peoples’ presents. Then there are those who take the most direct route; they see a person in the cold with no shoes, and they buy them shoes. They see a child crying, and they ask him what is making him cry. Or the restaurant owner who noticed that a young woman was going through their trash bin after dark, looking for food. That night, she posted a sign on the bin that said, “Please come in and have a sandwich and a drink on us.”
There was an older woman who lived near Central Park in New York and noticed piles of sodden, dirty blankets near some park benches. She gathered them up, took them home and washed and dried them, then left the stack of clean, sweet-smelling blankets on a park bench for anyone to use.
There are amazing acts of kindness and love all around us. Even the smallest thing you can imagine can make a world of difference to someone. We can’t read another person’s heart, but often we can see his need. It’s true that horrific things are happening in the world right now–terrible things that scare us and will make us feel constantly afraid if we let them.
We can’t let these things pull our hearts down, not for a second. It may sound too simple; to help where we can, love from where we are, and give as we are able. But those things are powerful, and the positive influence they have can and do change lives and attitudes. These are the moments that lift and inspire us, that give us courage and allow us to see and to be our better angels.
I love the whole idea and purpose of paying it forward. I say we keep it up, no matter what. When there is so much fear, anger and bad news around, we need more than ever to stay positive, be positive and to give positively from our hearts.