I first heard the phrase “Pay it Forward” during my college years at The Ohio State University. The words are etched into the gigantic stone facade that is on the south side of the cavernous, horseshoe-shaped structure known as Ohio Stadium. The stadium hosts 105,000
lunatics people on seven or eight Saturdays in the fall for Buckeye football games and has seen legendary players and coaches take its field over the past 92 years. One of those coaches was the legendary, and controversial, Woody Hayes. Woody was a war historian and when he put his plans together for a game, it was as if he were emulating General Patton or MacArthur. His temper was notorious and eventually cost him his job when he made the unforgivable decision to strike an opposing team’s player. During his retirement, Woody softened with age and, from what I have read, became much more of a philosophizer than ruthless tactician. But even in his final years, Woody still knew how to give the big speech. He was asked to provide the commencement address at Ohio State’s graduation ceremonies in 1986. He told the graduates that day that “you can never pay back, you can always pay forward”. I did a Wiki search on this phrase and it’s origin is debated. Benjamin Franklin spoke of the concept in the late 1700’s, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of it in the mid 1800’s and Lily Hardy Hammond used it in a book in 1916. My memory is of Woody saying it, accurately or not, when I was 13 years old; the age that Cam is now. In 1997, Ohio State hosted its first Community Commitment event which eventually became their Pay it Forward program. The Pay it Forward vision is to groom Ohio State graduates to have a passion and knowledge for being active citizens in their communities. During my Google search for the origins of the phrase, I was amazed at how many Pay it Forward programs there are in existence. How wonderful it is to see that there are so many communities that want to give rather than to receive.
Pay it Forward is not a concept that needs to stay within the confines of a charitable organization or a corporate fundraiser. It can be even more special when done on an individual level; for your own satisfaction of helping out a fellow person and not feeling the need to be recognized for doing so. A wonderful example of this was posted by one of my wife’s good friends on Facebook a couple of weeks ago. It was her dad’s birthday and rather than bombarding his wall with posts of Happy Birthday or sending material gifts, she asked everyone who knew him to “pay it forward”. She suggested things such as paying for the car behind you in a drive-thru line or leaving a dollar bill in a returned library book. You then could post what you did on his Facebook page, as your gift to him. The responses were tremendous and truly showed that compassion, while often hidden, can still exist.
In the gluten free and Celiac community, we have gained so much from other people in a short nine months. From the wonderful doctor who diagnosed Cam and treated him with the utmost respect to the connections that I have made through Twitter and other social media outlets, care and kindness have come with advice and encouragement from numerous people with the biggest hearts. My wife and I recently had an opportunity to return the favor and “pay it forward” ourselves. We recently learned that the teenage daughter of one of our acquaintance friends was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. We know this family through other friends, speak with them at gatherings and our kids go to the same school as their two youngest. When we discovered that their oldest was diagnosed with the same thing that Cam has, we didn’t think twice about reaching out to them. The day after we heard the news, we took a package of fresh baked buttermilk biscuits over to their home. My wife then went back a couple of weeks later and shared the recipes that we had found to be successful, discussed the best ways to keep their home clean of cross-contamination and even cooked a fresh batch of biscuits in their kitchen. Last night, we dropped off a section of freshly baked sandwich bread and a nice portion of homemade gluten free chocolate cake. Again, we did so without hesitation.
We know how hard the first year is for the newly diagnosed Celiac and their family. We have three months to go until Cam hits his first year anniversary and we still learn something new every week. But with each one of these discoveries comes a revelation; a recognition that people are out there to help us with their words, thoughts and generosity. Many may have been in the same situation that we were, that our friends are in now and that future diagnosed patients will soon be. They knew the overwhelming changes that we faced and provided us the words that helped us make it manageable. And now it’s our turn to pay it forward, to provide the insight and the experiences to help others. To help keep the ball rolling for education and advocacy. We do it not for recognition but because it is the right thing to do.