Pay it forward

Published 10:30 am Friday, August 30, 2013

In the year 2000 a movie came along that brought back into social conscious a term that had been around since at least 1916. That term and movie being “Pay It Forward.”

Lily Hardy Hammond is believed to have coined the term pay it forward in her book “In the Garden of Delight.” In it, she wrote, “You don’t pay love back, you pay it forward.”

In the film, Jay Mohr’s character, a journalist based out of Los Angeles, is given a car at the beginning of the story and told to pay it forward by a kind stranger. This raises his curiosity, as he finds that others had also been beneficiaries of such a movement, and he then goes on a journalistic quest to track down the originator.

This is by no means the central plot of the film, as it centers on a broken family in Las Vegas and the boy’s social studies teacher played by Kevin Spacey. But this movie, specifically the journalistic portion of it, came to mind the other day.

Gracie Malcolm was at the Duck-Thru in Courtland the other day getting gas in two of her cans for lawn equipment. When she went to pay, a young man said not to worry about it, that he would pay for it.

The man working the store told her that this young man had purchased people’s gas earlier that day. When she went to thank him, he asked if she had filled up her car. Coming in to fill up the jugs, she had not. He told her that she ought to go fill up her car, too.

She did, even though she had more than half a tank left. “God bless you,” she told the anonymous young man. “I’m going to pay it forward.”

A little while back, a person replaced a broken windshield in Abe Saunders’ car. The windshield had been smashed while he was driving from his home in Gates, N.C., to the Franklin McDonald’s for work.

An anonymous stranger, who may be the same guy, paid $160 for the windshield to be replaced, to help make Saunders’ 20-mile commute easier, since he couldn’t afford to replace the windshield.

The Good Samaritan did not know Saunders. Malcolm also did not know the young man who made her day.

Like Mohr’s character, my curiosity was piqued. For one, because this young man’s story would be a welcome piece in any newspaper — it’s the good news we all sometimes need to remind us that we live in a great community, with people who really care about one another.

It’s also a good story because there is a mysterious element. Who is this young man? Why would he help complete strangers? One could throw out thoughts and guesses all day, and probably still never hit the truth.

Unlike Mohr’s character, I probably won’t find the source of these good deeds. Not unless I happen to be in the right place, at the right time, or if he were to come forward.

So if the person wants to be known, he will be known, but until then, all that can be done is to be appreciative that people like this are out there, making small differences in people’s lives. While these are small differences, they are not insignificant at all.

Malcolm sure had a thought about him, and perhaps that’s as close as we are going to get.

“I thought he must have been a guardian angel,” Malcolm said. “There are good people still around.”

Cain Madden is the managing editor of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at 562-3187 or