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day 83: pay it forward

April 25, 2011

Several years ago, one of my husband’s close friends died of lung cancer.  Brad was the kind of guy who, when approached with the question, “Could you do me a favor?” would immediately answer, “Whatever it is, sure.”  Then he would do it.  Those close to him knew he was big-hearted, giving of his time and his talents, but it was only after his death that we learned just how generous he really was.  Despite having known him for years, at his funeral we discovered that he’d spent every Thanksgiving for a decade serving dinner to people in a homeless shelter (when friends invited him to Turkey Day dinner, he would always politely decline without explanation).  We learned that, in spite of being unmarried and having no children of his own, he’d helped pay for the college education of a friend’s son.  Brad did it because he could, because he wanted to, and without ever having been asked.  While I don’t think any of his friends were surprised to learn about Brad’s under-the-radar acts of kindness, I found it doubly powerful that he eschewed any recognition for his gifts.

One of the unexpected benefits of my “a gift a day” project is that it has opened up a dialogue with others about gifts, big and small.  In reconnecting with friends near and far-flung, I’ve heard stories of giving from all corners of the country.  Below are just a few examples:

  • The story of the woman who, after having been nearly sideswiped in a fast food restaurant parking lot, learned that her meal was paid for by the person who’d almost hit her.
  • The story of the woman who not only volunteered to clean up an area devastated by tornadoes but brought along her children to help out, too.  Knowing that the clean-up efforts could benefit from her kids’ help, she also knew that her kids could benefit from helping.
  • The story of the single mother at a pharmacy who discovered her sick child’s medicine was more than she could afford.  A kind stranger, overhearing her plight, picked up the tab for the expensive medicine — no questions asked.
  • The story of the man who, without ever having been asked, mows the lawn of his grateful elderly neighbors.
  • The story of the young single woman who, without complaint or demand, took her niece into her home when her mother couldn’t parent her.  With no financial support, she has raised the girl for more than five years.

These are just a smattering of the tales of human kindness I’ve heard over the last 83 days.

Perhaps because I have been paying closer attention to such accounts, I’ve also read more lately about the good works of others.  Have you heard of The Power of Half?  It’s a book that chronicles an Atlanta family’s decision (inspired by their then-teenaged daughter, Hannah) to sell their expensive home and donate half the proceeds to a charity fighting hunger in Africa.  The book describes the family’s transformation as a result of their decision.  It’s fascinating.

I welcome this bounty of good news. There’s no lack of it.  If you ever need a little wind under your sails check out this blog, thxthxthx, where writer Leah Dieterich writes a thank you note every single day.  Or, try The Good News Network or Positively Positive for a lift.

We are cheating ourselves, I think, if we choose to believe in anything but the inherent goodness of people.  When we decide the world is going to Hell in a handbasket, we quit.  We deny ourselves the opportunity to bear witness to all that is right.

So, moving on to Day 83’s gift.  On Day 83, I had an idea:  1).  I’ll send one of you a Visa gift card for $25.00 (money taken from my eating-lunch-out budget).  2).  You will use this money to execute a random act of kindness.  3).  You will let me know how it went.

That’s it.  Let’s just call this sub-project “Pay It Forward.”  If you want to participate, leave me a comment saying so (below) in the next 24 hours.  This time tomorrow, I will randomly select a Pay It Forward winner.  Be sure I have a way to contact you, please.  Won’t this be fun?

I hope today you witness something beautiful and unexpected.  Thank you so much for showing up.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Barbara Culbertson permalink
    April 25, 2011 8:00 am


    I have a recipient of your $25 in mind. My neighbor has Lupus and she doesn’t have a job right now and so money is tight right now.

    I know that I’ve recently accepted a gift from you but if you don’t have other takers I have a plan.


    • April 26, 2011 5:38 am

      Hey Barb… what a lovely idea, and a great way to spend the money. I will let you know which name I draw!

  2. Melissa Hawley permalink
    April 25, 2011 11:55 am

    I would love to do that!

  3. Dawn permalink
    April 25, 2011 7:12 pm

    I don’t have anyone specifically in mind, but it would be nice to just stay open and ready for when an opportunity for a random act of kindness could occur. Kind of like when you gave your coupon to the person in line behind you. It could be really powerful to be able to help a stranger out in some way.

    Thanks for coming up with such a neat idea.

    • April 26, 2011 5:39 am

      I love that, Dawn. I will enter your name into the drawing, too :).

  4. Melissa Hawley permalink
    April 25, 2011 11:46 pm

    I dream of being able to do charitable things again. I miss the days of being able to do that. Our money is so tight now, and we have so many people who are so charitable to our family, I would love to have my kids in on finding something amazingly, shockingly, charitable to do. One time, back before 7 kids, I went to my pharmacy in Wimberley and the pharmacist was so overwhelmed with work and upset she couldn’t have lunch. I dropped off my Rx, went to get lunch and returned with a fancy deli meal for her. She looked at me like I was crazy. I hope I made her day, though.

    • April 26, 2011 4:43 am

      Melissa, I am sure you did make that pharmacist’s day. What a great story. I also know that you do charitable things all the time — perhaps without even realizing it.

  5. Melissa Hawley permalink
    May 1, 2011 7:59 pm

    We finally made a decision on how to pay it forward. I will talk to my post office friend and determine the largest box we can send to Tuscaloosa for $25. As we have been gifted with many hand-me-downs by generous friends and family, we will send an assortment of getly-worn clothing and maybe some loved toys, games, etc. to those who now have nothing. It will be small compared to the losses they have suffered, but will hopefully help out.

  6. May 2, 2011 5:36 am

    Melissa, I think this is a perfect Pay-it-Forward project. You will make some needy family very, very happy. Thank you for volunteering your time and energy.

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