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I’ve always been the “sucker”. I mean, I don’t think I’m a sucker at all – but other people often do. You know – the one who gives the panhandlers money and puts change in the half-assed can on the minimart counter labeled “For Chairity.” I know that many times, I am probably being taken for…well…a sucker. But I don’t care. I’ve always been a firm believer that even if 9 out of 10 of those panhandlers take my money directly to the liquor store, that it still leaves one that I might actually be helping. And helping that one person is more important than not helping the other nine.
I’ve been known to do things that other people think are crazy – buying breakfast and a bus fare for a woman and her mother who were stuck at a hospital all night with no means to get home. They cried and felt bad that they couldn’t pay me back. I told them don’t worry – just pass it in. I once stopped – in the Hill no less – to help a man and his two young grandkids whose car had broken down. I gave him some money to get a cab and he wanted my address so he could send it back to me. I told him to pass it on. I try to help people whenever I can, and my response is always pass it on – pay it forward. I believe that even simple acts of kindness – like taking back someone’s shopping cart, or helping someone carry their groceries, or giving up a seat to someone on a bus – really can change the world. And I believe that it will eventually come back to you.
Many years ago, I was on a business trip in Chicago. Around the time I was there, the city was having a rash of pick-pocketings. Everywhere you went, businesses had signs about holding on to your bags and purses. Restaurants warned women not to hang your purse on the back of your chair. I took the warnings to heart and carried a tiny purse that I wore across my body. It had a button flap and a zipper. It rested right against my hip. It was pick-pocket-proof. Or so I thought.
My last night in the city, I walked a few blocks to a restaurant. I had an amazing, relaxing dinner and asked for my check. When the waiter was getting it for me, I reached into my purse for my card and discovered that my wallet was gone. I had it when I had left the hotel and didn’t take it out along the way. But apparently, somewhere in the crowds on the way to the restaurant, someone did.
I was in a panic. I had visions of washing dishes (like they always do in the sitcoms when they can’t pay the check). I had visions of being arrested. I was terrified. When the waiter came back, I was in tears as I explained what had happened. He told me to come with him and led me to the front desk to speak with the manager. I was literally shaking, worrying not only about the dinner check, but about the fact that my money, my debit card, my company credit card, and my ID were all gone and I had a flight home the next morning.
The manager was a sweet woman who immediately told me not to worry – that she would help me (which of course brought on more tears). She told me not to think twice about my meal – it was on them and they were glad to show me that their city was better than the pickpocket who had ruined my trip. She told me that the waiter would be taken care of when I worried about his tip. She wanted to give me money for a cab back to the hotel but I refused, since it was only a few blocks. She insisted on calling the hotel to let them know what happened, so they wouldn’t think I was trying to get out of paying. I sat at the bar with a (free) glass of wine, watching this amazing and kind woman take care of things for me – talking with the hotel and finding out that they were going to provide me with cab fare back to the airport the next day (because otherwise she intended to do so).
While this was going on, the couple sitting next to me spoke up. They told me they had heard what happened and they were sorry that something like that happened in their city. They told me that they wanted to help me and handed me $40. I refused, saying that I would be fine. But they insisted. They said that I couldn’t go to the airport with no money. They said you never know what might happen and that I might need it. They said I needed to eat something. They said that they wouldn’t be able to sleep that night if they didn’t help me out. So I gave in and took it and asked for their address to pay it pack. They told me they didn’t want me to pay it back, they wanted me to pay it forward. And I’ve been trying to do that ever since.
And pay it forward whenever you can.