Gifts we all should give
The elderly man sat alone, late on Christmas Eve afternoon a few years ago, at a local restaurant. He nibbled on a hard roll and stirred spaghetti soaked in red sauce around his plate, not really eating it.
My son elbowed me and nodded at the man, interrupting a lively discussion that he, his sister and I were having about spending the next day with extended family.
The man, his back to us, gazed at a page in a photo album; he hadn't turned the page the entire time we sat there. We could see that it held a wedding photo, probably from the 1940s: a young man in a military uniform standing beside his bride.
After prompting by my son, we quietly paid for his dinner. “Just tell him it was Santa Claus,” my son whispered to the waitress.
Leaving the restaurant, my daughter and son wished him a merry Christmas. He paused, looked at my adult children, grumbled nothing in particular and looked away.
His response failed to faze either of my kids; they were convinced he was grieving and wanted to be left alone.
“If you do any kind thing for praise, well, then it's about you and not the person you do something for,” my daughter explained.
The kids and I have played “pay it forward” since my daughter was in middle school; it began when she suggested, at a turnpike toll stop on the way to a soccer tournament, that I give the toll collector double our fare, to pay for the next car.
“Make sure you don't tell the next person that it was us,” she shouted from the passenger seat; at age 11, she already understood that recognition was not part of the game.
The “game” became part of our lives.
One year later, at the wise age of 9, my son found a $20 bill on the school playground. At that time, $20 was a heck of a lot of money to our little family, but he dutifully took the bill to the principal. One month later, when no one claimed it, the principal called him into the office for his reward; my son asked the principal to donate it to the local food bank.
Since James Franklin, elder brother of Benjamin, printed the first American newspaper in the early 18th century, the news business has never been about telling “good” news. Done correctly, it gives the community the information that affects daily life; it uncovers corruption, holds politicians, businesses, hospitals and educators accountable for their actions, reports crimes small and large, and marks the passing of community members.
Most reporters who work in a newsroom become so accustomed to the sound of a police scanner that they have a hard time falling asleep without it — although, truth be told, many reporters have a hard time falling asleep at all after working on the tragic stories that fill the news pages.
Rarely is there room to tell of simple good deeds — but that doesn't mean those don't happen. They do happen, as I've seen firsthand in the nearly 10,000 miles traveled and the hundreds of interviews conducted as I visited more than 20 states to cover this year's presidential election. Many of those moments moved me to tears.
I would say that most people “pay it forward” every day, and do so as a way of life.
Today is as good a day as any to think about how you conduct your own life.
The next time someone cuts you off in traffic, instead of responding with an angry gesture, just smile and wave.
If you spend time posting your views on Facebook or Twitter, ignore the impulse to snark away.
Or, the next time you're out at lunch or dinner, skip the appetizer or dessert so you can treat a needy stranger instead.
It doesn't take much to realize that every one of us has a little George Bailey from the classic Christmas film “It's a Wonderful Life” inside. We all can make a difference and, when we do it with a smile and without expecting an avalanche of attention, we're better people and a better society for having done so.
Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (412-320-7879 or firstname.lastname@example.org).