How I started paying it forward

Last week for April Fool’s Day I shared a”prank it forward” video where a waitress was given the best shift of her life by friends and coworkers, and I asked if anyone has done a “pay it forward” type prank.
I have a regular pay it forward tradition. It started right after September 11th, 2001.  
Just four days after 9/ll, I decided to do something different at my Pike Place Market booth in Seattle by giving my clocks away that Saturday. At first I didn’t think I could even show up at the Market so soon but I couldn’t imagine staying home alone any longer, filled with the immense grief we all felt that week. I needed to go be with my friends and fellow artists even if there was no one shopping. Then on the 60 mile drive to work it occurred to me that in giving a gift, I could do something positive both for myself and for others. 
The market felt strange that day. People were there, walking around as usual, but the air was so full of sadness. When someone approached my table, I waited and when they picked something out I would bag it up. Then when they reached for their wallet and I’d simply smile and say “You can put that away. I’m not taking any money today”
peace dove travel alarm clock
What happened was astounding.  At first people couldn’t understand what I was offering. All of them refused the offer at first. But when I said “I think we all just need to be kind to each other right now.” without exception, every one of them burst into tears. Then I asked them each if they would do something nice for someone else in return. People really broke down at that point. Do you remember how raw our emotions were at time? How grief stricken and vulnerable we all felt?  I cried, my artist neighbors set up on either side of me cried. Other artists in the market passed the word of what I was doing and a small crowd of them gathered in my booth to watch every time a customer approached. Several customers came back later and reported their pay-it-forward deeds with pride. One proud father came back later to tell me that his 5 year old gave all of her allowance money to a homeless person after they left my booth.
Within a few days word of this story made it’s way onto the Internet and travelled around the country. A man from Georgia actually looked up my website and called me at my studio in Olympia, Washington, just to see if I was for real.
This was such a rewarding experience that now every day that I work at my booth I give away one clock. I never know how it will unfold or who I will give the gift to. It might be a little kid who clearly really wants one but his Mom says no, it might be a woman who falls in love with a certain design but just can’t afford it or seem to justify spending her money on it. Once it was a woman who got choked up when she saw my ‘Reach for the Stars’ clock, because her recently deceased mother used to say that to her all the time. Sometimes it’s just a traveler on a tight budget or someone who makes me laugh.
reach for the stars wall clock
Each day I wait for a feeling. It’s always a strong pull that sweeps over me in the moment, a sense that this person is the right person. Generally, I continue to talk to them as I nonchalantly pull the clock they are admiring from my back stock and put it in a bag. Then I might ask when their birthday is and when they tell me I say “Well, since I’m not going to see you on your birthday, I’d like to give you a gift now” and I hand them the bag.  
This is always met with a look of bewilderment. They peer in the bag, they say “what?” they reach for their wallet.  They often refuse to accept it at first, but I always insist, telling them I give something away every day and I wait until the right person comes along and “Today it’s you.”. After they thank me and express their disbelief, I follow it by adding “There is one thing I’ll ask you to do in return, And that’s to do something kind for someone else, preferably a stranger”  That’s when they almost always start to cry.  And I find on a day when I am selling very little, when business is slow, when I’m worried about paying my bills – it’s the best thing I can do. Although I may reduce my profits even more, I’ve done something way better because it always makes me feel full and alive – and reminds me that the best things in life have nothing to do with money.

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