“A candle throws its light into the darkness,
In a nasty world, so shines the good deed.
Make sure the fortune, that you seek
Is the fortune that you need.
So tell me why, the first to ask,
Is the last to give, every time?
What you say and do not mean,
Follows you close behind.”
– Ben Harper, Diamonds on the Inside
There are generally two classes of individuals; the givers and the takers. I do not know where I personally know where I stand. As someone who often self-deprecates, I automatically think that I am a taker, even if I don’t always indulge in selfish tendencies. When it comes to people and things that I love, such as my animals, store, friends, and family members, even at the library where I work, I know that I am a giver to a fault. Yet, because I am a human being and am biologically wired to self-preserve, isn’t it second nature to want to be a taker and put ourselves first? These are the dilemmas and dichotomies that I often consider in my journey to be a more humble and giving human being.
Last week Geoffrey and I went to see The Fight Club in the theatres. The movies theatres in our city frequently play classic films that they turn into a one-night event. When they do, we try to go. I’ve blogged about it here, here, and here. On the night that we went, there was something different in the air. When we showed up, the theatre doors were locked even though there was a film playing at that very moment. A crowd of us gathered outside, confused, but laughing and trying to figure out a way to get in since the next movie was playing in 30 minutes. One of us finally did, and suddenly, 10 or so strangers quickly became acquainted as we waited inside and in line for tickets. I’m not too sure as to what happened next, but for some reason, the first person paid for the next movie-goer in line. That person then paid for the next, and so on, until it came to us. My first thought was, ‘woo-hoo! Free ticket!’ but that would have defeated the purpose of this random act of generosity. Before I could do anything, Geoffrey asked for two tickets. One was for himself, and the other, for the person behind us since mine was free. I’m not sure if this continued down the line to when the last person didn’t have to pay for their ticket, but I certainly hope that it did. For this kindness to happen at a movie like The Fight Club, I thought that it was both fitting and contradictory given that the film centres on acts of community (albeit destructive ones).
I haven’t come across many instances of paying it forward. However, when I do, they stick with me for a long time. When they do occur, I am usually in line at a coffee shop and someone either pays for my order, or hands me something free with my order (a napkin rose, for instance). I am always caught off guard, but my day is instantly made better. One such instance was when I was a broke student and in university. The girl in front of me paid for my coffee and told the staff to give me her business card that she had left behind. I was so grateful and didn’t get a chance to thank her. Yet, I think that’s what makes it more special for the giver. The fact that they do it out of the goodness of their hearts and are not looking for any acknowledgement. Still, I kept the card for a long time since I had always meant to email her and thank her for being so kind. Inevitably, the busy, forgetful, and somewhat selfish student in me never did. Even though it was many years ago, I still think about it and regret not contacting her to show her my appreciation.
The morning after we went to the theatres, I visited a coffee shop for some much needed caffeine. I was on my way to my store, and rather than joining the drive-thru queue at the back of the line, I had to cut through the alley and pull up at a point that forces you to join halfway through the line, cutting everyone else off. I personally hate when people sneak in this way, and try to avoid it at all costs. This morning, because of traffic, I couldn’t avoid it at all. I held back and tried letting everyone else go ahead of me in order to wait for a spot at the back of the line, but I was holding up traffic in the alley and the drivers behind me were getting impatient. Suddenly, someone in the drive-thru generously waived me through and let me go in front of them, taking me to the front of the line. Embarrassed but thankful, I went ahead. Still on a giving high from the night before, and remembering the time that a stranger paid for my coffee and left her card, I thought, ‘now’s my chance to pay it forward.’ I pulled ahead, paid for my order and the individual’s behind me, and told the staff to hand them my business card. I never received an email thanking me, but in reality, I am glad.