Pay It Forward

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REFLECTION: Pay It Forward

Maybe someday I'll have kids of my own. I hope so. If I do, they'll probably ask what part I played in the movement that changed the world. And because I'm not the person I once was, I'll tell them the truth. My part was nothing. I did nothing. I was just the guy in the corner doing my usual thing..

I found out that actions have consequences, and not everything is under my control. Until I found out that I couldn't change the world at all, but a seemingly extra-ordinary movie, and a twelve-year-old boy could change the world completely — for the better, and forever—working with nothing but his own altruism, one good idea, and a couple of years, and a big sacrifice.

It started with a teacher who moved to Atascadero, California, to teach social studies to junior high school students. A teacher nobody knew very well, because they couldn't get past his face—because it was hard to look at his face.

It started with a boy, young Trevor McKinney, troubled by his mother's alcoholism and fears of his abusive father, who didn't seem all that remarkable on the outside, but who could see past his teacher's face.

It started with an assignment, where Trevor caught up by an intrigued by this one, which his teacher, Mr. Simonet, had given out a hundred times before, with no startling results. But that assignment in the hands of that boy caused a seed to be planted, and after that nothing in the world would ever be the same. Nor would anybody want it to be.

The assignment: think of something to change the world and put it into action. Trevor conjures the notion of paying a favor not back, but forward—repaying good deeds not with payback, but with new good deeds done to three new people. Trevor's efforts to make good on his idea bring a revolution not only in the lives of himself, his mother and his physically and emotionally scarred teacher, but in those of an ever-widening circle of people completely unknown to him.

Random acts of kindness. This brand of caring could be contagious. That's what kind of world in the movie it has become. No, actually it's more. It's become even more. It's not just the kind of world in which a total stranger will give someone his car as a gift. It's the kind of world in which the day someone received that gift was not dramatically different from all other days. Such generosity has become the way of things. It's become commonplace. So this much I understand well enough to relate: it started as an extra credit assignment for a social studies class and turned into a world where no one goes hungry, no one is cold, and no one is without a job or a ride or a loan.

And yet at first, people needed to know more. Somehow it was not enough that a boy barely in his teens was able to change the world. Somehow it had to be known why the world could change at just that moment, why it could not have changed a moment sooner, especially in the real world, what Trevor brought to that moment, and why it was the very thing that moment required.

And that, unfortunately, is the part I can't explain. I was there, focusing on every move, action, and words in the movie. Every cell of the movie, I pay attention to it. But I was a different person then. I was looking in all the wrong places. I thought it was just a story, and the story was all that mattered. I cared about someone like Trevor, but I hope by the time I cared about someone like him, it will not be too late. I thought I cared about my studies, my work, my responsibilities, my duties, but I didn't know what my work could really mean, but I hope to find out, or it will be over soon.

I don't know who I was then, but I know who I am now. Trevor changed me, too. The thing about Trevor was that he was just like everybody else, except for the part of him that wasn't.

People gradually stopped needing to know why. We adjust quickly to change, even as we rant and rail and swear we never will. And everybody likes a change if...
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