Forward thinking: Paying it forward

Giving. Generosity.

When you hear these two words, what comes to mind? Unfortunately most of us think in terms of “financial donations” especially this time of year.

The truth is we all have far more to offer than money. For example, we can give people access to our personal network, or leverage our influence to help someone else gain an opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have.

On another level, we can assist others in very practical ways. For example, visit shut-ins, watch children while the parents have a nigh out, take seniors to their medical appointments, help friends move to a new location – the list is endless.

The above thoughts remind me of a story I read several years ago.

The year was 1792, on a chilly December day in Salzburg, Austria. An unmarried embroiderer gave birth to her third child, a baby boy named Joseph Mohr. The child’s father had deserted the mother immediately upon learning about the pregnancy. The abandoned mother, already short on money, was fined a year’s worth of wages for having conceived a child out of wedlock.

With an absentee father and an impoverished mother, Joseph’s life prospects were dim. This was especially true in the late 18th century, when so-called “illegitimate children” were socially stigmatized. They were routinely denied apprenticeships and educational opportunities.

However, one place where Joseph felt accepted was at his local church, where he sang in the choir. Moreover, Joseph did quite well in school, and he excelled musically, learning to play the guitar, violin and organ. Eventually he decided to enroll in seminary for theological training.

Joseph’s plans were blocked, however, as his illegitimate birth prevented him from studying for the priesthood. Vicar Hiernle came to his aid, successfully seeking an exemption so that the young man could attend seminary. After completing his studies, Joseph was ordained, and then appointed as priest of a
small parish in the community of Oberndorf.

During his second year at the parish, Joseph scrambled to pull together a concert for Christmas mass. He had written a poem and shared it with a friend whom he asked to compose a melody to go with it. Joseph’s friend agreed to do so. Together, they performed the song for the congregation on Christmas eve.

The tune, “Silent Night,” has gone on to become a holiday favorite, popular with both churches and carolers for almost 200 years.

My guess is that with a minimal amount of prompting, you could break out in song. “Silent night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright.” You and the rest of the world have been captured by the beauty of that simple carol ever since.

If it had not been for a kindhearted vicar, who generously used his connections to aid a fatherless, underprivileged young boy, “Silent Night” would likely never have been written or sung. In fact, who knows what would have become of Joseph Mohr without the vicar’s support and guidance?

At some point, I’ll bet someone has generously intervened in your life in order to give you a better shot at success or fulfilling your life’s dreams. As a way of honoring this person, take a brief moment to reflect on the impact their generosity had on you. Then drop them a card, letter, or e-mail; call them on your cell phone or visit them in person – regardless of the method used, let them know how much you appreciated their investment in your life and the difference it made.

And then ponder how you might be able to “pay forward” their generosity in the life of another. Listen carefully. Some of the most important things in life come to you in a whisper.

Bottom line – it doesn’t cost a penny to pay generosity forward.

Until next time… How might you be able to “pay forward” their generosity?

Loren (1)–By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 35 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years and is currently a member of the Lynnwood Civil Service Commission. Loren works as a consultant, writer, speaker and trainer. He is also a member of the Lynnwood Parks and Recreation Foundation.

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