Unexpected and Anonymous
July 27th, 2012

Thanks for hanging in there with me this week.  My earlier posts didn’t draw scores of comments, but they were controversial and I didn’t expect them to.  Nevertheless, in posting them I felt that I was in some way true to myself, and that felt good.  So, true to my word, I’m here today with something much happier than what Tuesday’s and Thursday’s posts had to offer.

She sat at the end of the exit ramp.  Her tousled hair stuck out from under a ball cap.  Her knees poked out from the holes in her jeans.  She wore a rucksack backwards across her chest.  And she held a sign which I now wish I’d bothered to read.

The driver of the car in front of me rolled down his window, and I waited for the woman to make her way back to me.  I reached into my wallet, pulled out two fives, and folded them together.  As she approached my car I reached my arm out the window and held the bills out to her.  And then I got confused.

She shoved a wadded up dollar bill into my hand.  I don’t remember what I said, but I conveyed that I didn’t understand what was going on.  She said, “It’s a pay it forward thing.  I haven’t seen a five today, so I can’t give you a five.  I can only give you a one.  So just do something nice for someone.”

I protested.  ”I can’t take this from you.”  She protested, “I work two jobs.  I don’t need it.”  I protested, “But if you work two jobs then you need this.”  She was insistent.  She wouldn’t take my money and she forced hers onto me.  The light turned green and I drove off up a dollar.  I was completely befuddled.

Why on earth would she do this?  Why would she stand on an exit ramp shoving dollar bills into strangers’ hands?  What kindness was done to her?  Or was any kindness done to her?  Perhaps she is in graduate school, doing some sociological study on how people react when someone defies their expectations.  Perhaps she felt the need to right some wrong she’d done.  Or perhaps she was just trying to send good will out into the universe, trying to make it a better place for the rest of us.

I will never know.

What I do know, though, is that what she did has gotten me thinking.  Why don’t more people do things like this?  Not just sit at exit ramps handing out money, but do something kind and asking only that other people also do something kind.  Better yet, why don’t I do more things like this?  Embarrassingly, I was at a loss for how to pay her kindness forward.  For starters, I put her dollar bill in the tip jar at a Starbucks later that morning.  But I need to do something more meaningful.  And I’m at a loss for what that should be.

So I put it to you.  I am here to read your recommendations and suggestions.  I’d like to do something that will be at least unexpected, and ideally anonymous.  I want it to be a pleasant surprise.  And I hope it can be a pleasant surprise for someone who really needs one (although that kind of qualifying might be tough).  I have an opportunity and an obligation here.  I want to fulfill both as best I can.

There is good in the world.  And it was good to be reminded so.

3 Responses to “Unexpected and Anonymous”

  1. Lori Says:

    I personally believe that acts of kindness are far more “pay it forward” than money. Although money is very nice, it can seem too easy…especially for those people who have a good amount of it. It’s the respect as a human being that every individual deserves, and that sadly so many people do not fully receive.

    I think it can be anything from a smile or holding a door open for someone, to helping an 8-month pregnant woman at the swimming pool by catching her older daughter when she jumps off the diving board. It can be a polite wave through a car window letting some one merge onto the street or greeting the walking mailman at the door to say “hello” and “thank you.” Sure, tipping a waitress or someone in the retail field is nice, but it’s also taking a moment to really talk to them and make them feel special and not just the trash man…

    Actually, that reminds me of a gentleman who when my older son was just an infant, the man saw me carrying my boy on my hip to get our trash cans from the street. The next several weeks, he would roll my trash cans back to my garage door for me. I caught him doing that one day and asked him why I got special treatment. :) He simply replied that I had a little guy that needed my time more than hauling trashcans up and down the driveway. I smiled and thanked him and immediately went inside to call our trash service to compliment this man who took his opportunity to pay it forward.

    I think role modeling these types of things for your kids and involving them in those acts is just as important as the acts themselves. My kids quite often become the friendly greeters of Costco, or Price Chopper, or the mall…wherever we end up walking around. They make eye contact, wave, smile, and ask “how are you today?” to anyone brave enough to look at a 3 1/2 year old and an almost 2 year old! Seeing the smile on peoples’ faces is huge and I know that if someone did that for me, it would make my day as well.

    Great thought for a Friday! Thanks for taking the time to think about this and encourage others around you to do the same. How much happier would this place be if we all just made those around us happier instead of simply complaining and going about our business?

  2. Cathy Says:

    I don’t have any suggestions for you. I will say that paying it forward is something I try to do regularly, daily even. It can be as small as letting someone in a congested traffic situation or offering up encouragement to a discouraged friend. These are just good, right things to do and it makes me feel like a better person to understand that everyone has challenges, big and small, and I should not be so inwardly focused and ignore others.

  3. BigLittleWolf Says:

    Remarkable story. I think those who have been the recipients of kindness never forget. And they do what they can, when they can, any way they can – to pay it forward.