Pay It Forward

Comments 13
Give without expecting anything in return. Then everything starts to change.
Give without expecting anything in return. Then everything starts to change.

“There are two ways to live your life. One, as though nothing is a miracle. The other, as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

Someone I don’t know and can’t thank bought me lunch yesterday.

My friend and co-worker was kind enough to bring lunch to me at the office when I had work piled up and couldn’t get away. The driver in the car in front of her at the drive-through pickup window paid for one of our meals.

She should have accepted the generous act for herself. But she chose to let my order be the gift.

So, I kind of felt like two people bought me lunch when she brought me food and returned all my money.

So many little good things like this have been happening to me lately.

And they serve as an important reminder to care about others.

To focus on the good and beauty of humanity, instead of all the horribleness.

It’s so easy to find and focus on the shit.

Newspapers, magazines and television practically scream it at us.

The miracles are more subtle. All the good.

But it’s there.

If you just look closer.

Listen harder.


See it?

Hear it?

Actually, There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

Cynicism never made much sense to me.

Because every cynic could prove themselves wrong simply by displaying unconditional generosity just one time.

During my first summer interning at a daily newspaper, I was asked to cover a Zig Ziglar talk. Ziglar died last year after years of motivational speaking and training and writing bestsellers.

When I was 20, I wasn’t ready for what he had to say.

I just didn’t get it.

“You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want,” Ziglar said. Over and over again, he said it.

That wasn’t registering with me 14 years ago. I wasn’t ready.

Remember when you were a little kid, experiencing the magic of Christmas morning? Gifts, gifts, and more gifts? And you just celebrated the greed and excess because you were a little heathen child narcissist shithead like me?

And you’d hear some well-meaning adult—maybe one of your parents—say something like: “It’s so much better to give than receive.”

And you’d nod in agreement, but in your head, you were like: Yeah, right, dipshit. I got a Lite-Brite and a Nintendo and a new bike. Santa hooked me up. Because I was so freaking good this year. Have fun giving shit away, though!

But then you got older.

And Santa stopped bringing you toys because you weren’t so good this year.

But then you gave a gift to someone else.

Your spouse.

Your children.

Your parents.

Your friends.

And all the sudden your parents don’t sound so silly anymore. Ziglar’s message starts to seem a little less crazy.

That feeling inside of you, telling you all you need to know about the power of giving.

The power of helping people. Even in the smallest of ways.

Listen. Smile. Care. Try.

You’ll change the world if you do.

The Drive-Thru Difference

So apparently this is a thing.

A quick Google search taught me that many radio stations encourage listeners to be part of the Drive-Thru Difference, both to give, and to call or write the radio station with stories just like this one.

Where someone—without agenda—performed an intentional act of kindness.

Driver A pulls into Starbucks. Buys her coffee and pays for the driver behind her as well.

Driver B gets to the window. Learns that the stranger in front of him paid for his coffee this morning. He smiles. His day just started off beautifully. He doesn’t hesitate to pay for the order for Driver C behind him.

It’s a chain reaction of smiles. Of positivity. Of good deeds. And it sometimes goes on and on and on.

And it only took one. Just one thoughtful person at a drive-through window.

The miracle of generosity.

When my friend got back to the office with lunch, she handed me a piece of paper the checkout window person had handed her.

It was a note from the person I wish I could thank.

It read:

“You don’t know me, but I’ve just paid for your order. Paying for someone’s order is a simple way to brighten someone’s day. Hopefully it brightens yours. Maybe you’ll feel like doing it for someone else.

Hope you have a great day!

—   The stranger in the car ahead of you.”

What do you mean one person can’t make a difference?

What do you mean you can’t?

It’s out there. The good.

If we only look closer.

Only listen harder.


See it?

Hear it?

I do.

13 thoughts on “Pay It Forward”

  1. I have been a huge fan of paying it forward ever since I saw the Haley Joel Osment movie more than a dozen years ago. The drive-through thing is wonderful, and I have done this on multiple occasions. However, I wound encourage my fellow bloggers to GO BIG. Start with paying for the gasoline for the person pulled up to the pump behind you. This costs a whole lot more than Starbucks, but please allow me to posit that you get what you give. The last time I did this, the woman cried. Unbeknownst to me, she was counting her coins just to see if she could manage putting a few bucks of gas in her tank to last her one more day. Whoever and wherever she is, I am sure she won’t soon forget. Hopefully, she will one day pay it forward.

    So don’t wait, do it now! You can make a difference in someone’s life today. Coffee is good for a start, but let’s run with the big dogs! Who’s with me?

    1. While I wouldn’t dream of discouraging people from going big in their generosity, I also wouldn’t want to suggest the little things aren’t good enough. I absolutely believe the smallest acts of kindness–a smile and a kind word–can change the world of it’s done often enough by a large enough group of people.

      It was a nice moment yesterday. Reading that note from the drive-through. Replicating that for others seems like a good idea. As does doing bigger things.

    1. In the end, being generous to those who most need it is the best thing we can do. What I like so much about this drive-thru thing is the chain reaction it can cause. Something nice for someone in emotional distress. For someone super-rich who might be motivated to give LOTS. For a bunch of people moving around in the world, interacting and telling stories.

      I like this idea of good spreading. And I don’t believe it has to cost a lot to instigate large-scale change.

      Thank you for reading and sharing your story. I like hearing those kinds of stories.

  2. I worked at a Starbucks where paying it forward happened frequently. And sometimes it would go on for fifty cars or more. It was cool. That was in Colorado. When I moved back to Missouri, I have never had anyone pay for my coffee! Come on Missouri get with the program!

    One day I paid for a gal’s coffee at a Starbucks, even after she was rude to me. I accidentally cut her off going up to the drive thru. I gave her the “Wow so sorry look,” and she flipped me off. So I bought her coffee. I hope that made her feel better.

    Great post!

    1. This is a really nice story. Fifty cars in a row! That’s ridiculously awesome. And I happen to believe the ripple effects of those fifty acts of kindness could have had more profound effects than we’re capable of understanding.

      And even if it was nothing more than 50 smiles, so be it. A great moment.

      Fifty of them, actually. Or make that 51. Because I’m smiling now, too.

      Thank you so much for sharing. For being a part of the conversation. Hope there’s a next time.

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  5. Drive-though kindness is very misguided. People who are rich enough to own a car, too lazy to cook their own food, and too lazy to even get out of that car don’t need or deserve anyone’s help.

    If you want to really help people then find some poor, starving, desperate and maybe even homeless person who is really suffering and help that person.

    1. A cynic! How fun!

      Kindness discrimination? Based on relative wealth? Some young mother of three with a terminally ill father, an unexpected automotive bill to keep her car running and the stress of living in a brand new city with no friends doesn’t deserve the pick-me-up of a random act of kindness?

      Or worse… You want to tell people motivated to perform such an act that their generosity is bullshit? Unworthy? Not good enough? Because someone else gave more to some other thing?

      Sorry, sir. Can’t co-sign.

      Everyone deserves kindness. Everyone deserves lifted up. Everyone, regardless of means, can benefit from love.

      1. Aspen'sProudMama

        I loved this post, too! And your response to the Cynic was spot on! You said it do eloquently and with your heart. I sure hope to possess that Grace someday.

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Matt Fray

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