The Burden Of Paying It Forward

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I was driving home from work on the Northern State Parkway in the early 90s when the drive-train on my Honda snapped. I heard it “ka-chunk” and immediately began losing acceleration. I maneuvered to the right lane and onto the grassy knoll somewhere between Lakeville Road and New Hyde Park Road, rolling to a halt. Now what?

Darkness was approaching and although my membership in the Allstate Motor Club included free towing, it would be another few years before I got my first cell phone. I recalled that Driver’s Ed taught us to open the hood and trunk to signal the vehicle was disabled. Surely someone would stop and offer me some help, right?

But no one stopped. As my fellow commuters continued their crawl home, I thought about how I might be identified on the “Shadow Traffic” reports by now as a “disabled vehicle on the Norther State Parkway causing rubbernecking.” Just then, a guy in a cool looking sports car pulled over and offered to help.

He asked if I wanted to make a phone call and reached for a handset that was connected by a wire in between the two seats. I had only seen car phones in the movies, so I looked at him with adoring eyes and asked if he was James Bond?

I made my calls and shook his hand, ever so grateful for his help. I dug into my pocket to reimburse him for the calls, but he shook his head and replied, “Just help someone else out in the future when you can.”

For the rest of the evening, I couldn’t get James Bond out of my mind. It wasn’t the cool car you could make calls from or that he took the time to stop and help. It was what he said, “Just help someone else out in the future when you can.” That was a tremendous responsibility to place on someone’s head, don’t you think? Couldn’t I have just given him $10 and called it a day? Had someone helped him once and now he was just passing it on to me to keep the chain going? In today’s vernacular, it’s called “paying it forward.”

For a while, every time I passed a disabled motorist, I felt guilty for not stopping and helping them. The burden of my “pay it forward” pact with James Bond was beginning to wear on me. With all the horror stories about people setting traps for Good Samaritans, I hesitated to make myself a victim. But then again, if not for Mr. Bond, how long would I have been out there?

It was Christmas time at a packed Sunrise Mall years later, when a young kid and his girlfriend approached me in the parking lot, seeking jumper cables to help start his car. Immediately, a sly smile crossed my lips and I knew this was it; this was my chance to unburden myself! The thought of helping this poor kid was almost secondary to me. It was a public place, it was broad daylight and there was no danger of this being a scam.

I quickly agreed, and could tell how relieved he was. As his car roared back to life, I could feel the weight being lifted off my shoulders. I had fulfilled my promise to James Bond all those years ago. Now, I could continue to pass by stranded motorists with impunity!

The kid got out of his car and reached out to shake my hand, grateful for my help and offered to reward me for my benevolence. Before the words could escape from my mouth, I paused and thought about what I was about to lay on his head. Did I really want to burden this kid with a lifelong vow? Calmly, I shook my head and turned down his offer before getting back into my car. I knew I had done the right thing and finally paid my debt forward after all those years.

As I drove past them, I rolled down my window and wished them a Merry Christmas. And just for fun, I said, “Just make sure you help someone else out in the future when you can.” Without understanding what he was about to commit to, he looked at me and said, “Sure thing, mister.”

To this day, I wonder if that kid ever lived up to his end of the bargain, or has he been cursing me ever since…

2 COMMENTS

  1. If we all paid it forward what a better more beautiful world this would be. Thank you I will pay it forward when a situation arrives.

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