Pay it forward, make someone smile

Bridget Scott / Photo

Bridget Scott / Photo


A cold Tuesday morning in early January. I push open the door to my second office, Speakeasy Café, where it is cozy, warm, and sunny. After claiming “my” table in the window, I order a coffee and muffin. But before Bridget rings me up, she hands me a white oblong of cardstock.

“This was left for you.”

It takes me a moment to understand what’s in my hand. And then disbelief. Then a warmth spreading somewhere in vicinity of my heart. It’s a gift certificate made out to me with “Pay-it-Forward” written in the memo line.

I of course inquire who left me this gift, but Bridget is mum on the matter. I go through the catalog of my brain trying to think who might have thought to make such a touching gesture. A couple of people spring to mind but I can’t know for sure.

I “pay” for my breakfast with my certificate and return to my table trying to think how I might honor this request to pay-it-forward. While nothing came immediately to mind, I relaxed in the knowledge that how I might best use the money would become apparent.

According to Wikipedia, the concept of paying it forward is, “an expression for describing the beneficiary of a good deed repaying it to others instead of to the original benefactor. The concept is old, but the phrase may have been coined by Lily Hardy Hammond in her 1916 book ‘In the Garden of Delight’… The Pay it Forward Movement and Foundation was founded in the USA helping start a ripple effect of kindness acts around the world.”

I believe I first heard about it a number of years ago on the Oprah Show, but only really paid attention to the idea when I heard a story which impressed me. It was about a coffee shop which would allow you to purchase “suspended coffees,” meaning, you buy your own cup but pay for one, two, or however many extras. Homeless or poverty-stricken customers could then come in and request a suspended coffee.

Other similar stories include Starbuck lines where hundreds of people have paid for the person behind them. It has also happened here according one local. “Last fall I went through the drive-thru at Dunkin’ Donuts in Center Rutland, and the person in the car in front of me paid for my coffee. I didn’t know who it was. It was such I nice surprise! I then paid for the person behind me.”

Sometimes highway tolls are covered for those next in line by a generous motorist. Parking meters are occasionally filled by an anonymous benefactor. This is one I try to do myself. If I have an extra quarter, I try to remember to put more time on the meter than I know I’ll need. There have been times when I found I have no coins on me — usually when I’m late for a meeting — and an already filled meter would have made my day!

Talking of quarters. One local shares this story: “When I shop at Aldi every week, I always try to give my cart to someone. Some people are crazy appreciative. One woman acted like I gave her $100. It was such a small gesture, but to her it was the world. Some extend a quarter to me and are amazed when I decline and say ‘pay it forward.’ The other day when I was there, a woman gave me her cart. I told her that all of my ‘paying it forward’ came around to me.”

My own opportunity to pay it forward came almost immediately. Within two days of receiving the gift certificate, I was presented with an opportunity to help someone in a way I would never have thought of. Reaching out to others over Facebook with a request to supplement what I could give, another gift is soon to be given.

But paying it forward isn’t about getting recognition for your good deeds, and I don’t tell my part of the story for that reason. I tell it to share an example of how the concept can work. Being handed that gift certificate made me smile from ear-to-ear all day, and I hope the person(s) responsible for providing me with that “happy” are reading this and know my appreciation. I also want them to know that it started a tiny chain reaction which I am hoping might make a difference in someone’s life.

I will probably never know if that particular chain reaction will continue or stop where it is, but I hope others are inspired to start their own chain reactions. Even the tiniest “random act of kindness” can make a huge difference to someone, whether you ever learn of it or not. If you can help make one person smile today, why not do it?

Joanna Tebbs Young is a writer and writing and creativity facilitator living in Rutland.
: @jtebbsyoung  

Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA

Joanna Tebbs Young is a freelance writer, author, and expressive writing coach living in Rutland. Email her at

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