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Pay it forward

I was sitting in my parked car downtown one afternoon, waiting to pick up my brother, when a man in a Lexus pulled up in front of me, got out, handed a bag lunch to a homeless man, then drove away before the man could even thank him. Ever since I witnessed this gesture of kindness, I’ve been wanting to pay it forward. It’s difficult to reach out to someone the way this kind stranger did–partly because we don’t want to give our hard-earned money away (or, in my case, don’t have any money to give), partly because we are so sheltered (we grew up hearing “don’t talk to strangers”). And also because we are so out-of-touch. People busy themselves to the point that they don’t have time to acknowledge the person standing right in front of them, who so obviously needs help.

Think about this: some people haven’t even heard their own name spoken to them in weeks. That scraggly-looking man on the sidewalk with the cardboard sign has a name. But how many people do you think actually talk to him, introduce themselves, and say “It was nice meeting you, (name).” Think how lonely that must be! Sometimes you can make a person’s day by simply acknowledging their existence.

Though I was inspired to do more random acts of kindness after that day, I wasn’t sure how to go about it. So the first thing I did was download an app called “The Karma Challenge.” This app features a “wheel of kindness” with categories like Family, Friends, Self, Environment, Animals. You spin the wheel and accept a challenge in the category on which it lands. For example, my first challenge was in the Self category, and it was this: do not say or think anything negative for 48 hours. Try it!

*Thoughts about that: Some people are great about doing things for others. They rescue animals, give to charity, take care of children, bend over backwards to help anyone in need. But they neglect themselves. Don’t forget that being kind to yourself is just as important as being kind to others. Exercise daily, fuel your body with healthy foods, dress nice, don’t think poorly of yourself, enjoy some alone time, treat yourself to something (whether it’s a hot chocolate or a new lipstick), eliminate toxic friendships, and go out of your comfort zone.*

Even though I was completing karma challenges, I wanted to do more than just use an app. I’m at a point in life when I have a lot of freedom and I’m trying to lay a solid foundation for what kind of person I’ll be. Lucky for me, one day after church the youth director asked me to volunteer with the youth group. I’m thankful for this opportunity to do something good. Another day at church I learned about the Just Faith program, which allows a small group to go on a spiritual journey over the course of several months; this involves weekly meetings, retreats, reading assignments, and volunteering in the community. I knew this was just what I’d been looking for: a way to pay it forward, meet new people who also care about these things, and find purpose and spiritual fulfillment beyond just Sunday mass. 

So here I am embarking on a new journey to become a kinder person all because of this guy in his Lexus that day. Funny how far a small gesture can go.

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