Pay It Forward

On Friday, September 27, I returned home from a three-day business trip in Boston. You know the drill – end of the week, tired, hungry, and looking forward to sleeping in my own bed. I’m in my home office and see my phone light up. At 7:57 p.m., I received this text message:

IMG_2764Texter: “Alan, I’m on a flight from Wisconsin to Kansas City. I saw this portfolio, and honestly, you might miss this. I’m in sales. If you tell me you need it, I’m going to help you. Pay it forward.”

Me: “??”  I’m thinking stalker.

Texter: “Are you Alan Patterson?”  I’m thinking time for a new cellphone number.

Me: “Who is this?”  Time to change the locks on my house.

Texter: “Can I call you. I’m on a plane. I’m a stranger to you.”  Do I call the local police or FBI?

By now I’ve convinced myself that my phone was hacked, or worse, someone has access to my Amazon Prime, one-click account. Then I look in my briefcase. My diary – the aforementioned “portfolio” I use for meeting notes and ideas – was missing. Not the end of the world, but pretty close. Not a stalker, but a Good Samaritan. Not all things bad, but one thing good.

His name is Josh. And when I called him, he was in his car driving home from the airport. Seems Josh sat in my seat on the next flight, and as he’s on the approach to KC, he checks the seat back pocket (which obviously I didn’t do) and sees the diary. My diary. At 35,000 feet and descending, Josh finds my name and telephone number on the front page. And at 7:56 p.m., give or take, he texts me that “I honestly might miss this.” That’s an understatement.

37068826_lI can’t imagine looking through my briefcase on Sunday only to discover my security blanket – my notes, outlines, rambling and obsessive to-do lists, blog ideas (obviously not this one), some insane and not so bad ideas, phone numbers, doodles, and sheer nonsense – missing. Gone. Oh, I’ve left a computer on a rental car bus in San Francisco and left a cellphone in a cab in Boston (“it will ride forever on the streets of Boston”). But this one, thanks to Josh, has a happy ending. No big deal, he tells me.

No big deal? I beg to differ. Admittedly in the scheme of life, this is “just” a notebook. It is a big deal. It’s Josh that’s the big deal. It’s his thoughtfulness and his action that are reaffirming. It is a big deal that “a stranger to me” is no stranger at all.

I was reunited with my alter ego the following Tuesday when FedEx dropped it on my doorstep. Together again. One small step for kindness, one big step for mankind.

Josh, you said pay it forward. I have, and I will continue to do so. You have inspired me. I hope that others reading this are inspired by what you did, what you do. What if this were multiplied by a factor of 10, or 100, or 1000? Altogether possible. Little acts, huge impact.

What have you seen or done or had done to you that demonstrates we are not really strangers, that we are more alike than we are different? I’d love to hear your pay-it-forward story.

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