I’ve recently been reading about the “Pay It Forward Movement.”1 What stood out the most to me is how simple the philosophy is. Yet it’s still often difficult to be altruistic and do something for someone just because someone has helped you, or because you want the cycle to continue.
So many times in my personal life I’ve been stuck and in need of help, and someone helped me out. When I was 19 years old and leaving India after a two-year stint as a volunteer, I was crushed. I loved the work I did with the underprivileged children, the deaf, and the relief work I had been involved in. Packing my suitcase wasn’t easy either. I’d accumulated a lot of things during my stay, and there were airline restrictions in how much I could carry, so I downsized my belongings to fit into one big suitcase, a smaller carrying bag, and my guitar.
I arrived at the New Delhi airport three hours early with a heavy heart; I was sad to be leaving, sad to be saying goodbye to the things and people I had grown fond of.
I’d called ahead of time and learned that I was entitled to bring up to 32 kilos, and that my guitar would count as additional carry-on baggage. Well, when I arrived at the check-in desk, the lady said that for that particular flight I could only take 23 kilos and that my guitar could not be considered carry-on baggage. She said my small carry-on bag was also too heavy.
I was stuck. I couldn’t afford to pay the overweight, and I couldn’t believe that they were now telling me something different from when I’d first contacted the office.
I asked to talk to the overseer. As I waited, I noticed that he seemed very upset about something; he was talking intensely to three different people, and I just knew I’d arrived at a bad time. I prayed desperately for God to do something, as I didn’t know what else I could do. My friends who had driven me to the airport had already left, and I didn’t know how to get rid of my clothes and/or my guitar, if I needed to.
The overseer very briskly asked me what I wanted. I tried to explain my predicament as precisely as I could, and asked if he could waive the fee for overweight, as I couldn’t afford to pay it. He refused to allow for an exception and told me that if I didn’t pay, my options were either to miss my flight or throw my “extra” stuff in the trash so that I could make the flight.
You can imagine how I felt. Devastated. Indignant. Frustrated. Wondering why this was happening to me. It wasn’t my fault that the airline office had given me the wrong information. I felt that it would be a simple thing for the overseer to just say “yes,” especially after hearing that I was a volunteer who’d given two years to help the people of his country.
That’s when someone asked me what was wrong. I explained the whole story, from the reason I’d been living in India to my current predicament. I also explained that I’d asked the supervisor for help, but that he didn’t seem to be in the mood for helping.
This gentleman, I discovered, worked with another airline and knew the supervisor. He went to ask him if he would allow me on with the overweight baggage. The supervisor said he had bigger problems to take care of.
This man appeared to be deep in thought and then said to me, “I’m going to cover the fee for your overweight. I’m also taking this flight, and it would be a shame for you to miss it, after all you’ve done for my people!”
I was shocked, relieved, and very thankful.
During our long flight, I sat next to this man, and he explained that when he was younger, about my age, he’d found himself in a similar situation. Someone had come by and asked him if he needed help. He’d explained his dilemma, and the gentleman had paid his train fare and asked him to pay it forward.
He said that when he saw me pace back and forth at the airport, he felt bad for me, as he had three daughters. One of them was on her way to the UK that day, and he pictured how she would have felt if she was the one stuck and in need of help, and that was why he decided to help me.
He felt good that he had, because not only had he been personally helped when he was younger, and felt that it was his turn to pay it forward, but also because he knew it was the right thing to do. He said he knew that God is always watching, and if his daughters were ever in a tight situation, he knew God would work something out for them too.
This man paid it forward, saved my day, and made a real impact in my life. Since then, I’ve always done my best to help and give to people. I know it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also because someone did it for me. We give from our heart and pass on to others the kindness that has been shown us.