From the time we are born, we make choices and enjoy the consequences of those choices. We often associate the word “consequences” with something bad, but it also represents something good happening in our lives. The “good” is a result of a choice or choices that are building blocks or enablers of positive positioning and positive results in the experiences of life.
My father was not known as a leader in the community, in business or even in his neighborhood. Rather, he was an activist who quietly and often anonymously improved the lives of others. His choices were usually simple, yet always consistent. He actively looked for a way to improve the life or outlook of others and rarely failed to immediately act on an opportunity. Frequently, his actions consisted of only a few kind words spoken to address an area in the personality of his contact that was shunned or ignored by others. On some occasions, he gave all the money he had to those in need. A pair of shoes for a twelve year old. A ride and tank of gas for a stranded traveler. He even gave his vehicle to a widow who was struggling to feed her three small children.
Over the years, many new people came into his circle of “friends”. They were from all levels of the social strata. Some were wealthy, some were movie stars and others lived in shacks hidden away along the river or in an orchard. However, most of them were just ordinary people who only needed the polishing of a few kind words or acts to help them reveal their nobility.
The term “Pay It Forward” was first introduced into his vocabulary in 1962 when his vehicle stalled in the center lane of a bridge in Seattle during the evening rush hour. Cars honked, people said things out of their windows and others shook their fists in frustration, but one young man stopped to help.
After years of quietly helping other people, he received a return payment for his way of life. The vehicle was easy to fix. The carburetor was only vapor locked. The young mechanic poured some cool water over the hot fuel system and the vehicle started easily. Dad tried to pay him for his help only to receive the words, “Pay It Forward” to someone else in need”.
Like ripples from a rock thrown into a peaceful lake, the good deeds of a lifetime had reflected off the far shore and had come back to help in a time of need. It was time to send them out again and continue to “Pay It Forward”.
During the visitation at his funeral, our family was astounded to be greeted by hundreds of people from all over the western United States who had come to pay their respect. We didn’t know most of them but the visitors all had stories to tell about how they were helped by our deceased father and husband.
Many of the visitors had only met him once, but the interaction had established a life-long feeling of friendship. They came from all walks of life. There were mayors, truck drivers, waitresses, a man on parole, a bank president, an attorney, and hundreds of other occupations. Their stories were as varied as the personalities telling them. Enthralled, we listened for hours.
One ‘friend’ was a police officer whose life had been saved, another had driven 16 hours non-stop from northern California to make it in time for the funeral. He explained that he received a hot meal when he was at the ‘bottom’ from a fellow who quietly walked over and sat by him. He said that he was now a successful husband and father and that his life had turned around after talking to the man at the counter in the bowling alley that day. Retrieving his wallet, he showed the worn, tiny slip of paper on which he’d written the name of his benefactor, saying that he often looked at it when life threatened to harden him.
The stories were new. The impact of repeatedly choosing to perform small positive acts resulted in consequences never imagined. Ripples were almost waves.
Choices. Consequences. They never sleep.
It has been said that the gate of history turns on small hinges, and so do people’s lives. The choices we make determine our destiny. -– Thomas S. Monson
"I shall be telling this with a sigh
somewhere ages and ages hence;
two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference."
-- Robert Frost, poet
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