The Late Night Buddhist: Pay it… somewhere

By Scott Taylor
Reader Columnist

A few years ago I realized that I’d had enough of sitting behind a desk, trying to teach junior-high students the geography of central Asia or get high-school kids to appreciate Dadaism, so I decided my skills and experience with teenagers might best be used in a wilderness setting (not that being in a classroom with 25 seventh-graders isn’t already a wilderness). 

So I applied to some of the wilderness therapy programs in the West and, after a flight to Vegas and a shuttle van ride through the Virgin River Canyon, found myself schlepping around the desert town of St. George, Utah, strapped to a huge North Face pack — complete with various dangling accoutrements — wearing my dirty Chacos and favorite ragged cargo shorts, and sporting several days of facial scruff and unkempt dreads.

As I explored the town, noting the frightening scarcity of coffee shops and liquor stores, I expected a police officer to show up asking, “Is there something we can do for you?” (Translation: “Why are you here dirtbag? Beat it!”) 

I spied a Bohemian-looking cafe across the street and headed for it. As I crossed the parking lot I noticed a couple of ladies and a small child talking next to a car, and saw them glance my way. I went in and was perusing the breakfast menu when the boy from outside, who was 5 or 6 years old, approached me holding a $20 bill. He handed it to me and shyly muttered something I couldn’t hear. Thinking he wanted me to purchase something for him, I bent down to his level and asked him to repeat. 

He said, “Buy yourself breakfast and pay it forward,” then turned and ran out the door, back to his mother. 

Apparently his mother thought I was homeless or a climbing bum (or a homeless climbing bum), and could use a decent meal. I had the choice of walking the money back out to her and explaining I could afford my own breakfast, or gracefully accepting her offering and paying it forward. So I bought myself a small breakfast and then paid for the next two customers’ orders. When I stepped outside, the ladies and the boy were gone and I had a full belly and good vibes for the day.

We’ve probably all heard of the “pay it forward” phenomenon and realize that giving to others is a good thing. But how many of us realize that accepting is also a way of bringing joy to others? By accepting offerings from others, we give them a chance to feel good and build good karma, and then it all keeps going around. 

So when you have the chance, pay it forward, pay it backward, pay it sideways — just pay it somewhere and keep the kindness and good vibes flowing. And be happy!

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