Monday, March 26, 2007

Paying it Forward

The concept is easy, good works beget good works. It ain't brain surgery. This all came up because of my friend Bev's blog from yesterday, which you can read "here." She mentions a young woman who took up the theater because she was inspired by Bev's kids who, in turn, had been inspired by others.

It got me to thinking about my own life. You see, for many years... nay, for most of my life, I'd always thought of myself as "a person of no consequence." Growing up in an alcoholic family, my existence mattered for little, other than an inconvenience in the lives of others. I always felt like "the tolerated guest" in their lives. Something they endured. A reminder of their past mistakes. A person of no consequence. My needs or feelings counted for nothing. It was all about them. I'm not saying this in a self-pitying way. They were very sick people who didn't know any better and, all things considered, it could've been a lot worse. I wasn't beaten or starved.

Anyway, I grew up to believe that nothing I did or said or needed or wanted mattered. To anyone. It, literally, never occured to me that my actions or words had an impact on others. The first inkling I ever had that I MIGHT have a place in the world came in high school when the chemistry teacher, Mrs. Milbauer, actually talked to me like I was a human being.

It enthralled me that she never spoke down to me. She treated me like I was an interesting person who had worthwhile things to say. To this day it makes me want to cry to think about that.

The next inkling I got that I might have some sort of impact on others came in college while doing summer theater. It was 1974 and we were doing "Damn Yankees", "Death of a Salesman" and "Hotel Paradiso" in nightly rotating stock. One day one of my college roomies, who was also in the summer theater company, and I were at the supermarket, picking up stuff for dinner when, suddenly, a woman in the pasta section starting gushing, out loud, about having seen us in the show (Yankees) the night before. "I saw YOU..... AND YOU...." she said loudly, pointing at us accusingly. "You were WONDERFUL!!!!"

Who knew? Oh, sure, the audience applauded wildly when we came out for our bows... oh, and they laughed their heads off at us during the show, but to have someone in REAL LIFE come up and tell us (me) how much something I had done meant to her... well, it was a revelation.

Flash forward to 2000. It'd been a long time since I'd fleetingly felt like a person of consequence.

I'd been told by my first 12-Step sponsor that there would come a time when someone I didn't know would let me know how much of an impact I'd had on them. But I still wasn't quite prepared for the aftermath of it.

I'd been sober for two years at that point. I'd gone out on a lot of speaking commitments to other 12-Step groups in my first two years of my sobriety and shared my experience, strength and hope with them many dozens of times. I'd done this from one end of New Jersey to the other. Then, one night, it happened. After a meeting someone I didn't know came up to me and introduced himself. He smiled and said, "I heard you before. A year and a half ago at the [location deleted] meeting on Saturday night. I'll never forget it. I had two weeks sober at that point and was feeling really bad about myself until you spoke. It made a complete difference in my life. Thank you!"

Those experiences in high school and college had been ego-feeding propositions. But this experience was different. I felt humbled. My straight from the heart story had made a difference in the life of someone who was struggling to get sober.

That experience has been repeated several times over the last nine years. And it's never lost it's impact on me.

I've also had the experience of telling others the same thing. That their stories had transformed my life.

These days I really understand what it means to "pay it forward." I try to live my whole life that way. I'm not always successful. I fail a lot. But I definitely try.

It's the best way I know how to live.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pay it forward indeed. You just did. Thank you for this post.