I spent Saturday evening at a “Pay It Forward” party, pondering a friend’s kitchen casseroles and photo frames, her DVDs and music CDs and an angel tree topper. I would cock my head a little and gaze at each item, trying to picture whether it would fit well in my little corner of the world.
Paula and Lloyd Eldredge are downsizing their lives, as many people do when the children have grown and flown and a five-bedroom house seems a bit much to handle. But they’re doing it differently than most people would.
Theirs is a concept that I hope will change how I downsize, too, when I finally quit talking about it and start doing it. I’d like to steal their notion and I hope others follow suit.
At their Pay It Forward party, nothing had a price tag, though nearly everything was for sale. You could take two or 10 of the dishes and decide what each one was worth to you. Buyers simply stuffed their cash or check in a vase in the center of the kitchen counter, amid some of the household goods. If you needed something they had, but you'd been going through a rough patch, you were welcome to help yourself and not pay them anything, though the Eldredges hoped those folks would do something kind in the future for someone else as a form of payment.
They had enough items to fill four rooms and cover the front lawn. And they attracted a crowd of people to match. It’s an irresistible combination: An invitation to browse someone’s belongings, get a variety of items at a good price (we snagged a post-hole digger, among other things) and feel you are accomplishing something good. Before the party started, the couple had picked two charities that are very dear to their hearts, and when it was over they’d raised enough to be able to donate more than $1,100 to each.
Then they started looking at how they could use the items that hadn’t been snagged in ways that would help others. As we left them with our goodies in hand, they were gathering boxes of movies for a shelter that helps youths and pondering resettlement organizations that might like some of the kitchen gear.
When my husband and I married 20 years ago, we had both been on our own for quite some time, had good jobs and didn’t need much in the way of household goods. So instead of gifts, we asked friends to write a check to one of our two favorite charities in the amount they’d have spent on a wedding present and throw it in a wishing well at our reception.
Our friends were very generous — more so, I think, than if they were purchasing toasters and baking dishes for us.
In the decades since we did that, we’ve sometimes been on the receiving end of people’s generosity. It’s not something you plan on or look forward to. But without the help of my friends and family at different times as my husband has gone through a very trying and lengthy medical challenge, including organ transplant, I’m not sure we’d have remained afloat.
Life is like that. Most of us are blessed with opportunities to give and also to receive. Each comes with its own set of lessons for the human heart. Both are surprisingly easy and also challenging.
But the best part of being human is that life provides so many ways and occasions to connect to others, to buoy and embrace and share life's road — if you're willing. We all carry ever-changing bags of rocks. Sometimes we’re cruising downhill with them and they’re shiny and beautiful baubles that don’t weigh very much. Sometimes we’re trudging straight uphill and they feel like they’re chunks of granite.
When the load’s light, you pay it forward. When it weighs a ton, there’s nothing better than someone willing to lighten your load.
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