My first car was Maud, an Old’s 98 convertible. Maud was slightly sporty but mostly elegant in that big sixties sort of way. In the winter, I drove around playing the Monkeys or Cat Stevens wearing an oversized fur coat and fedora I found in my dad’s closet. In the summer, I drove with the top down, music blaring from the 8-track. Maud and I were buddies, partners in crime; though with my not being particularly adventurous, Maud had few crimes to worry about.
Maud loved gas; premium, of course. I was always fearful of running out, so when the needle got to a certain point, I religiously filled her up. I was terrified of the thought of sitting on the side of the road, future more uncertain without calamities like running out of gas, getting a flat tire or having any other car related breakdown. I was just learning to navigate life and was a bit less bold than some.
One day I noticed that Maud was nearing her fill up point. I wondered if I could make it a few miles more home or whether I should pull off and get some gas. I then noticed that I was low on cash, I needed $5 and while I was usually very good about having cash on hand—ah the joys of hyper vigilance—I was in that horrifying position of not having cash in my handbag and wondering if I could make it home where I did have cash, or whether I’d find myself in that horrifying position of having run out of gas on the interstate.
…and then I noticed the bank…my old bank, the bank which had exactly the $5 I needed sitting in an account I had closed out a month earlier. They had held the $5 in case there might be checks outstanding. There weren’t, and I wanted my money. Problem solved. Only the bank manager, a rule following kind of guy, decided that the bank should keep the money three days longer taking it to the full thirty days, in spite of my emergency, in spite of the fact that the money didn’t belong to the bank and in-spite of the fact that all the outstanding checks had cleared. All facts he carefully verified. He assured me he’d personally put the money in the mail to me at the end of the week as agreed when I closed out the account.
As I walked to the door, another man walked up to me. He pressed a five dollar bill into my hand and said “I heard what just happened. I’ve been in predicaments like this myself, so take this, get your gas and get home safely.” Grateful, and much relieved, I asked how I might repay the $5. He told me to do the same for someone else some day. He said that if we all helped each other out in times of need, the world would be a better place.
Today, we call it “paying it forward.” But in today’s version, we pay it forward with the hope that if we are in need someone will come through for us, rather than just giving to help another person out. You know, that whole anonymous thing, not wanting or expecting anything in return, the kind of sentiment completely missing these days.
I never forgot that man’s generosity nor his request that I give when I could, to someone else in need. I’ve been in a number of situations over the years where I’ve been blessed to be able to help someone and repay that $5 many times over. I didn’t realize that it feels really good to help someone as anonymously as possible. It also reminds me to be grateful that I am blessed to have the resources to be able to do give back, and pass on the gift given to me that day long ago.