Friday, February 25, 2011

Paying it forward?

"A life lived for others is the only life worth living." ~Albert Einstein

We all know the meaning of paying it forward, right? Earlier this year (I think--it could have been the end of last year--I have no concept of real time anymore, but anyway), I signed this petition-thing on Facebook to do something nice for someone the next day which was supposedly "Pay it Forward Day." Now, I am the type of person whose conscience speaks WAY louder than anything else, so knowing that I signed this thing meant that I HAD to do something nice. What a great thing, right? Maybe for anyone else on the planet, but not necessarily for me...

I woke the morning of the supposed "Pay it Forward Day" (note, I have seen the same thing going around Facebook again--I know there's not national holiday for this event, but still) and I told myself, I must pay it forward today. So the day began...I dropped of K at school and had just a little extra time before my meeting with my professor. And the pressure was on. So that I would not have to grapple with living up to my deal, I was convinced I must pay it forward before this meeting. I was a little hungry so I decided to grab a bagel at Panera. And, as I parked, I promised myself I would pay it forward in the restaurant. It would be so simple. I would just pay for the meal of the person behind me.

SOOOO simple...or not. First of all, I realized I had no cash (as usual) but I told myself I could just pay with my check card--still simple, just not quite as simple as hading the cashier an extra $10 and telling her what to do with it. Minor setback but we were still good...or not.

There were no other customers in the restaurant. Crap. I was going to have to devise some sort of lunch plan. I could get cash and do some sort of drive-thru pay-it-forward-action. It would be okay...or not.

So I pay for my bagel and walk down to get my cup of water. Then, the door opened. Two men walked in. One was what I would describe as an outdoorsy-type--you know, with the big beard, plaid shirt, hiking boots, etc. And the man with him appeared to maybe have some special needs. Apparently they were regulars. All of the Panera employees knew them and they spoke with everyone. When the guy (not the outdoorsy guy) walked past, he said hi to me, too...and I said hi back. My palms were sweating now--Should I go with the original plan or just duck and run? Again, this conscience of mine speaks loudly and sometimes it distorts its messages. I felt I had to go with the original plan. I mean, what if I got tied up and did not get another chance to pay it forward? I must do it now, I told myself. So, great, back to the original plan...or not.

Since I was on the other side of the restaurant having this mental conversation with myself, I had to act quickly. The outdoorsy man had ordered while the other man sat down. I walked quickly to the register and, in my attempts to pay it forward, made a complete fool out of myself.

I panicked--I flaked.

I asked the lady if he (clearly talking about the outdoorsy man) had paid yet, suddenly realizing I am talking about the gentleman as if he was not there. So then I turned and asked him. He said he was getting ready to. And I said "Well, I would like to pay for your breakfast this morning." He told me I didn't have to do it and I told him I wanted to. In my panicking and flaking out, I became concerned that maybe he thought I felt sorry for him or something--or thought he couldn't afford breakfast or some other craziness. So I told him it was Pay it Forward Day and I had to do something nice for someone. He and the cashier laughed about how I "had" to and how I was getting it over with I paid, felt my face turn 10 shades of red, ducked my head, and ran out of there. Oh, and the grand total: less than $5.

And THAT was my "good deed." Or whatever it turned out to be. I blew it. I wrecked it. I felt like a fool and called my husband, who laughed at me because I somehow always turn something simple and supposedly nice into something humiliating--at least for me.

So, what's the point here? Welllll, why must we need a day to pay things forward? And why do we have to pay it forward to complete strangers? And why does it feel so strange when you combine the two? First of all, I don't think we should need a day to pay it forward. I do try to practice simple, random acts of kindness on a daily basis to people I don't know and will never see again. Yet, I am thrown a curve ball when I sign some silly petition. I don't like the pressure. I don't really like any pressure, so I throw myself into a PhD program--ahhh the irony...

Anyway, I have recently been having some rough days for a variety of reasons. I am working to change my thinking and my attitude. And I have come to the conclusion that, in order to do this, I need to work on rising above. And one way of doing this is to make every day pay it forward day--but my focus should not be on strangers, but on those close to me. All too often, I think we all forget that those closest to us need a little random kindness, too. Now, what deviates here, at least in my case, is that "paying" it "forward" implies that the niceness will be passed along to others and this will give you some sense of satisfaction--but that's not likely to happen in my case. I am sure those I am "paying" will not even recognize it. But I must rise above. I must pay it forward as a gift to others and, in turn, myself. I cannot do this as a credit or an I-owe-you or a promise to pass it on to anyone else. I must do it to be a better person--and to maintain some sense of sanity in the insanity which is my life. I must work to find intrinsic good in being a nice person ALWAYS, even if that is not reciprocated to me or beyond. I must be the example. Now, if I can just practice this.

"Be the change you want to see in the world." ~Gandhi

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