When I was a young boy, my father used a repetitive phrase which, after a time, lodged itself in the basement of my consciousness and has been an integral part of who I am. “Pass it on,” my father would say when someone did me a kindness. Or when he gave me something, lest I’d feel the need to repay him, he would say, “Pass it on to your children.”
The phrase came to life when I was in my twenties. I was surprised when it surfaced and was thrilled by the satisfaction it brought. One afternoon, as I was driving north on the Henry Hudson Parkway, I saw an elderly couple, forlorn and helpless, looking at a flattened tire on their car. I stopped to help. They were from Switzerland, on their first trip to America, and feeling desperate at their plight. I will never again meet more grateful people.
After I changed the tire, they insisted on giving me money. Repeatedly I refused, and for as many times as I said no, they persisted. Finally, from a hidden corner of my consciousness appeared the words pass it on.
“I’ll tell you how you can pay me,” I said. “Someday you may see a distressed American on a Swiss highway. You can reward me by assuring me that you will return the favor.” Their countenances changed. We had a deal.
Since then, the dynamic idea called “passing it on” has been a rule of living for me. It has expanded from helping people with a flat tire to trying to be a supportive presence to family, friends, fellow workers and strangers. It gives enormous satisfaction and pleasure to be helping and giving. I never feel a need to control the gift. Freely received, freely given. And I know that a fertile seed has been planted that will multiply many times over in some unknown way.
Keep loving the world, dear friends. It is the only thing that will save us.