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Originally posted 12/02/17

Apparently paying it forward has become entrenched in certain pockets of society. The idea of paying in advance for the person behind you has landed in my favor thrice in recent weeks. Okay, here’s the situation…

I love people. I really love people. I love listening to them and watching them and trying to figure out their backstory from gestures, postures and speech patterns. I love reading energies and auras and going off my gut instincts about a person’s character. It turns out that I’m really good at it too. I have “predicted” so many things about people, which later turned out to be true, that my closest acquaintances think I may dabble in the dark arts. I don’t. I’m just a natural born anthropologist. Duh!

It also happens that people like me. People like me so much that I sometimes entertain the notion that I’m the star of a real world Truman Show. How else do I explain why everyone I meet seems to be the nicest person in the world? My day unfolds in a series of smiling strangers going out of their way to hold open doors or pay me compliments. I have very intimate conversations with people I have never met before. Seriously, I once stepped out of the gym and into an hour long discussion with a woman about her panty liner preference, which dovetailed into the topic of tickling your own toes. (Yes, it’s a euphemism.)

People greet me with mostly cheery faces, raucous laughter and an overall trust that is reserved for lifelong friendships. Maybe they read my “I love people” vibe and know that I welcome their company. Maybe they just want to confess something out loud and feel more comfortable telling a stranger, they’ll probably never see again, than their best friends. Most likely they guess that I have an absent-minded brain and I will forget the details of the conversation long before I am able to relay them to another soul.

The point is that I love people and people love me (generally). With so much love bouncing around, it’s easy to find oneself the beneficiary of a pay-it-forward situation. The latest was at a coffee shop where I was chatting with an energetic booster club mom about her amazing kids and how impressed we both are with the next generation. Then, the vibrant woman, named Marie, nonchalantly asked my order and instructed the barista to add it to her bill. “Pay it forward” she said. How can I pay it forward, when I don’t get the opportunity? I lamented that I was in debt to the universe for two prior occasions. Then she put everything into perspective for me.

It’s as simple as smiling at someone, paying a sincere compliment, or letting someone cut you off in traffic without laying on your horn. I told her that I already do those things on a regular basis, except that last one. (I morph into a fire breathing demon behind a steering wheel.) That’s when she dropped the light-bulb Eureka! bomb on me.

“The fact that you’re already doing all those things is the reason you continue to receive life’s little blessings”.

Really? No! I admit that I was dumbstruck that I hadn’t ever thought of that.

I always assume that I have not paid my debt to society, because I have been given so much. I owe my very existence to the kindness of strangers. Literally. If it weren’t for the foster families opening their homes to my mother, she may not have survived. Who am I kidding? That little lady’s veins pump ice water and Tobasco sauce. I’m surprised the streets of Newark survived HER.

The truth is, I cannot count the number of teachers, parents and mentors who felt compelled to advise me or guide me through challenges along my path. I received at least partial scholarships for both of my degrees funded by individuals whose names I had never heard. I even feel especially grateful to the authors of the thousands of books I’ve read for taking the time to help me find my best self, say yes to life and lean in. I cannot recall a tough moment throughout the years where there hasn’t been a best friend to pick up the kids from school or a sister to feed the babies dinner while I finished a term paper. Someone has always been willing to graciously give of herself/himself without expecting a favor in return. In my mind, though, there was always an implication that I would help another when I was in the position to do so.

Although I volunteer and donate to several charities, I always feel like there is more that I could or should do. I think of paying it forward in grand, Oprah-esque gestures. Everybody gets a car! The reality is much more subtle. Paying it forward, as Marie eloquently described, is any way you bless the world with the gifts you have to offer. If you are lacking in material wealth, personal kindnesses are just as good as anything you can give physically. If you already have a taxing schedule, a quick note of thanks given for no particular reason can brighten a person’s entire day. Any way that your heart compels you to positively affect the life of someone (without expecting anything in return) is the act of paying it forward.

Unselfish acts of kindness are needed now more than ever. We have to remind the world that people are good and loving and compassionate. I know this to be true. A small minority of the population is banking on your fears and insecurities, so they spend a lot of time and money convincing you that the world is dangerous, people are awful and you are powerless and vulnerable. They have to first convince you that there is a problem before they can sweep in with a solution that only costs 1,000 payments of $99.99. They know that if we know the truth, we would cease to buy into their unnecessary goods and services.

Let me reiterate. People are good and loving and kind. Given the opportunity, they will demonstrate the vast reach of their goodness. When you find yourself on the receiving end, accept their goodness, kindness and love graciously. Then, spend your waking hours seeking opportunities to pay it forward. That is how we will illuminate our world.


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