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Payin' it Forward

You think I'm gonna write something sappy. I know you think it. I'm not, but I can understand why you'd think it. The title of this post screams sap.

But I have no sap for you here, just a little self-reality-check.

A couple of days ago I was chatting with Alonzo Mourning, all-time leading scorer of the National Basketball Association's Miami Heat, and perhaps more important, chairman emeritus of Alonzo Mourning Charities, Inc.

Mourning, who some of you might know once suffered from a deadly kidney disease, spent most of the conversation talking about his two-tiered philosophy on life:

  • If good things are not happening for you and you'd like them to, surround yourself with good people.
  • And if good things are happening for you and you want to remain grounded in the reality that you are fortunate - even if you feel you solely engineered your success - then do good things for other people, "good things" being time as much as money.

That philosphy is the basis of Mourning's new book, Resilience.

It's not a wild philosophy and not entirely uncommon. But the key to 'Mourning's second point is that he believes you have to give with equal vigor to people you know and perfect strangers alike.

So I have to confess, as much as I enjoy talking to Mourning, it took a lot for me to quell the cynicism boiling inside me.

Seriously, for a moment, I felt like I was channeling Eric Cartman, when he yells out the school bus window at the apparent downtrodden in South Park that they should all go get jobs.

It's a mean attitude that rears its ugly head in me sometimes. And just giving with pleasure like that is so contrary to the few polluted instincts I have that tell me to hoard and yell "mine!" like a kid holding the only shovel in a crowded sandbox.

Anyway, hours after my conversation with Mourning I was still thinking about what he had to say, when I decided I needed a cold beverage.

So I hollered out to Mrs. B that I was making a quick grocery store run for cold beverages. And I decided not to take any money with me.

No, I didn't think me being so pretty would secure my beverages for free. But I had in my pocket a gift card I was recently given for my birthday. And I was pretty sure it had lots of loot left on it. So why would I need money or a wallet?

Anyway, as I walked into the grocery I saw the usual gaggle of homeless and transient men hanging out at the entrance. And by "usual," I'm not condescending. I mean literally that the same guys are always there.

And, as usual, they appeared to be hitting virtually every entering/exiting shopper up for cash. And as usual their apparent actions annoyed me.

Mind you, all the while I was still sort of stewing in the back of my mind over what Mourning had said to me earlier, mumbling to myself that it's easy for him to be charitable 'cause he's rich. And of course, the little voice that was egging me on left out the part about all the time 'Zo spends in giving, in lieu of money.

So I got inside the store, grabbed my cold beverages, and went to check out, and my gift card didn't work.

I won't bore you with the details, other than to admit I got annoyed with the clerk and muttered under my breath that she must've done something wrong, before I walked out in a huff to the "cold beverage store" next door and got back in line.

Again, the card didn't work. What can I tell you? I'm slow sometimes. It was only then that it dawned on me that the card was either closer to used up than I thought or something was wrong with it.

Yadda yadda yadda, I called the number, checked the balance, and sure enough the card was nearly full.

So there I was looking like a moron, just four blocks from home where I'd left perfectly good cards and perfectly spendable cash, when the cashier tapped my wrist and said "Sir?"

I looked at her exasperated, and she handed me a paper bag with my beverages, pointed at the guy behind me and said "Here you go! He took care of it."

"He" turned out to be one of the guys I'd seen standing at the entrance to the stores. Turned out, according to the cashier, his name is Barry, and he wasn't out there waiting for people to give him money. Barry was out there giving away cash, himself. Apparently he does it a few days a week.

I felt about two inches tall when Barry sincerely asked then "Are you sure that's enough? You need a couple more bucks to grab a bite to eat?"

Talk about sheepish. I thought about Mourning again at that point. I politely declined the offer of food money and tripped over my tongue explaining that Mrs. B was back home preparing a meal for us.

But Barry wouldn't accept my refusal of his charity for the cold beverages. He wouldn't accept my business card either, which I offered and told him to call me so I could return the favor in the next day or two. So I was left with one option: to say thank you.

His response? "Think nothing of it. Just pay it forward. Do it for someone else next time you have the opportunity."

I swear, if I was a conspiracy nut, I'd think Mourning had sent Barry to teach me a lesson, or our crossing paths had been some divine intervention. I know the former's not possible. But the latter might be probable.


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isn't it funny how shocked or suspicious we are when somebody does something nice for us for nothing.
do you now feel compelled to "pay it forward"?
who knows...it might just spread like a virus, and we'll all live happily ever after


Very nice read James, and so is Zo's book. I love it. I read it from cover to cover in about 3 days. Real classy guy.

Robert Shapiro

Good for you James, I'm proud of you. It's one thing to talk about these things quietly and another thing to say it publicly.

I feel that this type of thing is happening more and more now and I have every reason to believe that it is divine intervention but not intervening in your life so much but rather intervening in your conditioning and in the conditioning of others as you pass this story on and also to help you to shake that cynicism which does support you to be insulated yes from the slings and arrows of life but at the same time it also insulates you from noticing your opportunities. Fortunately Barry was not so insulated.

Goodlife my friend.


You keep getting all these messages around you about using honey to catch flies, and being nice...........I'm really happy for you.


What an incredible story! I believe that life teaches us the lessons we need to learn. It knocks on our door gently at first, but if we don't get it, next time it kicks the door in.

You have been kicked, my friend. And I have no doubt that you will indeed pay it forward.

Trish | eMail Our Military

That is amazing! Have you had the chance to pay it forward yet?


A very finely written story. You have talent. I enjoyed every word.


Hahahaha!! The universe is trying to tell you something, isn't it? hahaha


Loved your little life lesson --
and I love Mourning's attitude about surrounding yourself with good people.

as for hand outs..
I guess it isn't for us to decide who is "receiving" and who is "taking"
, but I sure know where you're coming from.

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