Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pay It Forward

Did you ever see the movie Pay It Forward? Trevor is in the 7th grade. His homework assignment -- 'Find a way to change the world and put it into action'.

Trevor's calls his approach to changing the world, "Pay It Forward". There are three simple rules:
  1. It has to be something that really helps people
  2. It has to be something they can't do by themselves
  3. I do it for them, they must then go and do something to help three other people

The teacher likes the idea but doubts it will work. A "little Utopian".

I haven't thought about the movie in years. However, it re-surfaced in my mind recently as I have been witnessing around me wonderful acts of kindness and generosity by those who are overwhelmed with gratitude for the grace that was shown to them in a time a need.

A few weeks ago, I was working with a group that was helping clear debris and search for valuables with families that had lost their homes during the recent wild fires. We had worked at several homes during the day and as the sun was starting to set we were all tired and hungry and running out of steam. A car pulled up on the side of the road and a woman popped the trunk to reveal a cooler full of cold drinks, baskets of fruit and bags of snacks. She called out to us and asked if we would like a snack break. We were all amazingly thankful, but also wondered who was this lady that had appeared from no where. As we chatted with her we learned that she lives in the Tierra Santa area of San Diego. In 2003, her home burnt to the ground during the Cedar Fires. She knows what it means to loose everything. During her time of crisis and need she was overwhelmed by the support she received, not only from family, friends and strangers - but from people she had never met who came and volunteered and helped her get back on her feet. So, she woke this day, she felt compelled to stock up her car and head up the freeway to Rancho Bernardo and drive through the streets looking for volunteers - to feed them, encourage them and express her gratitude! As we talked with her our team lead went and brought over the families who's homes we were clearing. How amazing it was to watch and listen as our new friend share, even as we stood amongst the rubble, her journey of recovery. What started out as tragedy had brought joy and healing to her life. You could see the hope starting to re-appear in the eyes of the families who had lost so much.

A week later, a group of New York City Firefighters and 9/11 survivors came to San Diego to help with the Fire Relief effort. Click here to read about it. There is a foundation called New York Says Thank You that sends volunteers from New York City each year on the 9/11 Anniversary to help rebuild communities around the country affected by disasters. It is their way of commemorating the extraordinary love and generosity extended to New Yorkers by Americans from all across the United States in the days, weeks, and months following September 11th.

This fall I spent some time in the Gulf Coast helping with some rebuilding projects for those in the Biloxi area that were devastated by Katrina. One of the things that struck me most about the experience was the outpouring of gratitude I experience. Clearly, in the midst of tragedy the people of the Gulf Coast has been touched and inspired by those who had come and volunteered and they had been transformed by the acts kindness they had experienced. It was no surprise that a family from Biloxi was the first call to check up on me and see if I was o.k. and if I had been impacted by the fires.

Our friends in Biloxi, who lost everything just two years ago in the hurricane - next week are hopping on a plane to come to San Diego and offer their help to those here who lost their homes in the fire. How amazing it will be for those who survived Katrina to walk along side those who are picking up the pieces after the wild fires.

Paying it forward may seem like a schmaltzy Hollywood plot. But, in real life, grace filled gratitude, can and does change the world!

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