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Friday, 20 May 2011

Pay it Forward

I had a really uplifting experience today and could not wait to get home to share it.  One of my favourite movies is Pay it Forward.  For those of you who have not seen it, it really is worth the watch.  The basic story line is about a young boy who starts a chain of events.  His philosophy is that when someone does something good for you, rather than you owing the person a favour back, you pay the favour forward to someone else.  This movie was such an inspiration to me that ever since the day that I watched it, I have made it a personal (and unpublicised until now) mission to do at least one good deed a day. 

It could be something really small, but to the person on the receiving end it could be prayers answered.  Some are inconsequential, such as allowing someone in a queue ahead of me because they have fewer items than me, and some are rather foolish, like giving a complete stranger a lift.  I do exercise caution and discretion with the latter, but something always talks to my gut in this circumstance and I have been fortunate so far.  If I am going to be a fool then I make sure that I'm a wise fool.

Today, after a meeting, I was getting into my car in Musgrave Road when a black forty-something man approached me with an address and asked me if I knew where the place was.  I did indeed know the address as I had dropped off some jewelry at the very place that he was asking about prior to my meeting.  This is where my gut kicked in.  Anyone in Durban today will know how hot it is and he had a good two to two-and-a-half kilometer walk ahead of him.  He looked like he was in a hurry and when I told him how far he needed to go, his shoulders slumped.  It was at this point that I decided to go with my intuition and I offered him a lift.  A look of total surprise crossed his face and he asked me, "You would do this for me?"  My response was unhesitating.  "Absolutely - hop in."

Within minutes of him getting into my car he started talking... and I listened.  Sometimes people need just that - someone to listen when they need to talk.  His story was not one of poverty and could I help him or about how it surprised him that a white woman would risk giving a black man a lift in the twisted society that we currently live in in this country but rather about how much faith he has lost in the government.  Fancy that - particularly after my previous post!

Here is a shortened version of his story written in the first person singular:

The reason I need to go to this address is because the government paid for me to do a plumbing learnership six months ago.  Ever since then I have been trying to get my certificate from the company that I did the learnship with but they never respond.  I phoned the department that organised the learnership but all they tell me is that I need to follow up with the company myself.  The government is playing games with its people because they think we are all stupid.  They say they will help you study and get a job but after they put you into a learnership they don't do anything else that they promise.  Without the certificate I can't get a job so what's the use?  To get people to believe that I can do the job I will need to work for free first to prove that I can do it.  I am a Christian and I try and walk right but it's difficult when people play with you like this.  What you have done for me today has shown me that there are good people who will help you and not want something back from you.

At this point he went back to saying how the government is playing games with its people and how they think that they are dealing with stupid people.  We had already reached our destination and sat in the car for a further 5 or so minutes while he listened to me this time.  I told him that I had been unemployed for 10 months and was in the same boat as him.  I explained my daily ritual to him but also told him that I still find the time to see good in the bad and take as many opportunities as possible to help those less fortunate than me.  He asked what I meant by this to which I replied, "Although I'm unemployed I have a car.  You are less fortunate than me because you do not have a car.  I could help by giving you a lift which makes me feel good and I'm sure it's made you feel good as well."  I had to get out my car to open his door (it doesn't open from the inside), and when he got out he asked me what my name was.  When I told him, he responded by telling me his name was Basil and then put his hand out.  When I shook his hand he said to me, "Thank you Sally, you have made a difference today."

I'm not sharing this to elevate myself in your eyes.  I'm sharing this because it became crystal clear to me today.  If you take the time to throw a little understanding and kindness into the mix of racial tension and divide, a little can go a long, long way.  Basil and I will probably never cross paths ever again but I have no doubt that he will talk about our brief time together for a long time to come.  I am honoured that I was able to make a difference in one persons life that will hopefully last a lifetime.

1 comment:

  1. I sometimes wish stories like this made the front page, rather than all the rubbish we have gotten used to reading. I have to admit your story brought a tear to my eye.