There are certain moments in time that last in one’s life forever. Certainly, this is true many times over in mine. This week, I had the opportunity not only to pay it forward but share with the original angel who cemented a moment of compassion in my heart.
Twenty years ago, I was a senior in high school, where my cool factor was at an all time high. I presented as though everything in my world was fantastic and nothing could stop me. In reality, there were multiple barriers in my way, that I kept hidden from everyone within earshot. One of those barriers was food. Something so simple, and something we often take for granted living in America with the bevy of choices at our disposal.
Money was beyond tight in my household. My Mom would work multiple jobs all year just to keep things afloat. Ever had Top Ramen noodles for lunch and dinner, with special recipes using spices to vary the taste? Oh, that was a culinary highlight in my household. We had food, but it would run out as we crept towards the end of the month. To this day, I don’t really eat breakfast (I like my power smoothies now), not because of a personal preference but because there wasn’t much to eat and my body became conditioned to the malnutrition. Lunch? There was a formula to lunch.
I would get lunch one of three ways during the week. I would ask my girlfriend to buy me lunch. I would tell my buddy that I would drive his car off campus to pick up lunch for him if he bought me lunch as a service fee. Or, I would ask five people for a dollar (our lunches cost $5 at school) and rotate that list of about twenty kids so I didn’t seem greedy. If those all failed, lunch was spent playing basketball or hanging out.
My good friend got wind of my situation. He was the middle linebacker and fullback on our football squad. He told his Mom and she took action. During the season, on every game day, when we were dressed in shirt and tie with our jerseys over, she would send her son to school with two lunches. One of those brown paper bags had my name on it and inside, always, was a handwritten note of love and encouragement. It was a beautiful gesture by a compassionate mother.
I was beyond grateful. I never told anyone, but every time I would eat that lunch to fuel me for the game, I was on the verge of tears. I have never forgotten this act of a 13-game season, and never will. This week though, I had the chance to pay it forward. A young man I coach happened to be in a similar predicament. I overheard one of his responses when asked if he brought lunch for the day to help regenerate the muscle, he was breaking down during early morning workouts. His stammering excuse told the whole story indirectly.
Pulling him aside, I told him my story to soften any embarrassment and then asked if he was dealing with a circumstance like I had close to twenty years ago. He nodded. I let him know, from then on out, for the rest of summer practices, all he had to do was head to a certain private area and there would be a sack lunch waiting for him after practice. In remembering my time dealing with such a plight, I thought I would share a simple note with him.
“Never forget, we are family. This team is family. You are family. -Coach”
His grateful spirit let me know, the right thing was done. Every time I see that bag, empty, left for me to refill for the next day, it is his thank you that I receive. I did not want to take credit for this moment. For it was not I that created it. It comes from that Mom that did for me twenty years ago what I am doing for my player today.
This morning, I text my friend asking for his Mom’s cell number. As my three boys and I got in the truck to head to summer school, I told them I wanted them to hear something. I said I was going to make a phone call. They asked what it was about and all I replied was, “It is never to late to say thank you.” I called her and she answered wondering who it may be. After the pleasantries of identifying myself and the hello, I jumped straight into letting her know what I called to share.
I told her that I never forgot and how much it meant to me. I shared how I had the opportunity to pay it forward and it was because of her kind act. I thanked her for helping me and giving me the example of helping others that I follow today. I expressed my sentiment of gratitude and informed her that her act of compassion lives on in a part of the world she has zero connection. She was beyond grateful and shared another nugget of life wisdom.
She told me, with my boys listening, that was what life was all about; helping others and paying it forward, doing what we can to enhance the life of someone else. We said our goodbyes. My kids never made a peep and took it all in.
No matter our circumstances or situation, we are never alone in this world. It may feel that way when we isolate ourselves but if we allow others to know our struggle and be willing to accept help, it will come from every corner of your world. That leaves you with a further responsibility, to pay it forward, as it was done for you. If you abandon that duty, you devalue the help bestowed upon you and the person who was kind enough to extend the olive branch.