Friday, January 6, 2012

Pay It Forward

As a parent, I think I've done a good job instilling in my kids the idea of paying it forward, helping other people without an expectation of getting anything in return and only because it's the right thing to do.  It makes the world a nicer place to live in and makes us better people to practice generosity in our daily lives. 

As writers, we can pay it forward by critiquing fellow-writers' work with kindness, supporting other new writers by buying their books, and bolstering each other up with encouraging words.  I see this spirit of generosity every day in this blogging community. No one does it expecting anything in return - well, maybe some of us are obsessing over stats or book sales.

I had an opportunity yesterday to help someone selflessly, in a real way that mattered.  I haven't had a lot of that kind of support in my life.  But the few times I have, I remember it in detail.  It mattered to me.

I got divorced about a year after I had my second child.  I found myself single and working full time with full custody of one small child and one infant.  Every day was ridiculously difficult, and I often got through on an hour by hour basis because I had no other choice.  I had to pull myself out of bed every day, do everything my kids needed, go to work, come home, and take care of my kids again. 

Did I mention I couldn't cook at that time in my life?  We ate a lot of cereal and yogurt.  I was broke and perfected the art of ordering relatively healthy food at restaurants that my kids and I could share for under ten dollars including the tip (not possible today).

One evening, just before my youngest turned three at a time when daily life was starting to feel less difficult, I fell down a flight of stairs.  When I landed on the bottom after going airborne and bouncing twice, I couldn't get up. I had twisted two vertebrae and bruised the bones in my hip. 

The police came to the house first.  My little guy opened the door for him.  The officer went door to door on a frigidly cold snowy evening in search of a neighbor that was willing to pick up my daughter from dance class.  Several neighbors offered to take care of my son while I went to the hospital.  The neighbors, none of whom I was friends with, figured out who would be the best person to pick up my daughter without freaking her out.  They managed everything and even called my ex-husband to pick up my kids for the evening. 

In the weeks following, my sister helped out with my kids. My son came home potty trained.  One friend from work stopped by to take my youngest to daycare so I could rest.  Another stopped by in the evenings to help out with the kids.  An old friend came over and helped me clean my house when I was at the doctor's office.  A very close friend, who is now my husband, drove across town whenever I needed groceries or just a gallon of milk. 

Recovering from this injury took weeks and lots of physical therapy.  I don't remember the daily recovery, but I do remember the details of how a few people helped me out because I really needed help.


  1. I am so glad you had friends who could help you when you really needed it.
    I've always believed selflessness and kindness are boomerangs; they will always come back to you, usually ten times over.

  2. Rachel - Before that moment in my life, I don't remember being the recipient of selfless kindness.

  3. How wonderful so many came to your rescue! And you got a husband out of the deal - bonus! I believe most people are kind natured.

  4. Now this is an inspirational story. Wow. Thanks for sharing, Tonja. It really shows what folks are capable of in a crisis, doesn't it? But we need to behave this way whenever and wherever, not just in crises.

  5. What a great story, Tonja! Sorry it took an accident to reveal the goodness in people, but this really was an inspirational read.


  6. It makes such a huge difference when people step up, doesn't it? It doesn't always happen, and we are very fortunate when it does. This is one of the things I like about living where I do--we moved from a city I really LOVED, but big cities somehow diffuse that willingness to pitch in as people figure somebody else can do it.

  7. I can't imagine going through that! It must have been so hard. But for you to make it through and to be so amazing--this is inspiring. It's also so neat you married a close friend. I'd love to read a memoir about all of this. I bet you could write one heck of a story about it :0)

  8. I am really glad that there were people who could help you out then. Sorry about the stairs and all that...You really did not deserve it. I also think the pay it forward concept it wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us.

  9. That is so awesome. It's always so amazing to see when people come together to help in big and small ways.

  10. Alex - I think people are kind natured, I just hadn't seen that kind of generosity before.

    Karen - I agree.

    Bryce - Thanks. It also brought out the bad in others, but I left that part out. :)

    Hart - I would imagine people in smaller towns would feel more of a sense of community and be more willing to help out and to just notice someone needed help. I live in a very populated area - we do kind of keep to ourselves.

    Elisabeth - I did endure a lot of 'plot' at that time in my life. :)

    Murees - You're welcome.

    Laura - I think the small kindnesses really do matter.

  11. I believe most people are just waiting for the opportunity to do something meaningful for others. I spent some years raising my son alone and often worried about what would happen if something happened to me. People stepping up when you needed them is a testament to people. Glad things seem to be better for you now.

  12. ;) That is such a good way of putting it.

    I need to think that way the next time I go through a hard time. It might make things a little easier.

  13. What a wonderful world it would be if every person found a way to pay it forward just once every single day. It wouldn't have to be a big thing - small things count!

  14. Rusty - Thanks. I didn't realize you had been a single parent. The experience definitely changed me - I imagine it's the parenting equivalent of boot camp, but lasted much longer. :)

    Elisabeth - I hope we both have less plot this year.

    Melissa - Once a day would be huge. I'm kind of a recluse. Most days I only interact with my immediate person at least.