Why should we “pay it forward”? I am supposed to answer this, and I don’t know where to start. My friends wrote far better than I could. My piece oddly began when I was talking baseball with a friend.
I wondered what and why I could say in this article. Why do I have a voice to add? That’s simple. We all have heroes. I know mine.
It was my father. Like many others, he quietly and humbly overcame poverty through intelligence and hard work because he also had a hero. His heroic uncle was a semi-pro pitcher, whose shoulder was ruined working in a Cleveland steel mill. This uncle helped my father out. His gift was the occasional dollar for a ticket to an Indian’s baseball game. But more than that, it was his attention and love. As a result, my Dad succeeded and quietly helped a lot of others.
For me there was also Martin Luther King. Four days before he was shot, he spoke in a cathedral about the intractable challenge of poverty and inequality, an evil that still plagues us today. It was perhaps more challenging than his previous work. When he rose, he spoke of Americans as inevitably linked, “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you are ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”
A few days later, King was shot. And I can still hear the church bells ringing, and my father trying to explain that first it was Kennedy, and then they shot King.
I bet that your hero is also special for helping others. And by imitating them, we can hope to become heroic to some person whom we unforeseeably touch; and perhaps by doing so keep our hero alive in the world today.
Here is the hard part, why should we pay it forward if it does not help us?
It was best asked by God to a fratricidal murderer in a rhetorical conversation. God: Where is your brother? Cain: Am I my brother’s keeper? The answer strangely isn’t in the Bible; and it sure isn’t in this column. It poses a lot of questions, such as who is our brother? And need we actively help him or her?
I am afraid that the answer isn’t in this article that you hold. I wish it were. The answer is in your hands after you close up the paper and turn to your brother. You will find him or her just across the room.
Andy Haas has happily lived in Homer for 25 years with his wife Terri and their three children, enjoying the town’s hospitality and helping out when they can.