Pay It Forward


Stories From The Airplane

I haven’t thought about that guy in awhile.  Even after what happened, I couldn’t tell you anything about him.  I wouldn’t be able to pick him out in a crowd, don’t know his name, and he doesn’t know mine.  I can’t remember what flight I was working that he was traveling on, where we had flown, or the reason for his trip to Los Angeles.  All I can tell you is that he was sitting in my exit row, and I call it my exit row, because I was responsible for briefing those rows that day.

And if you are jumping to any conclusions that, this time, I am going to tell you about dating or how to hit on a flight attendant, jump right back in line, because that is not where this story is going.  For that, go there.  But, for something else, stay here.  I want to tell you about him, specifically, not because I did anything exceptional in this story(because I believe you would do the same), but because it’s The Holidays.  And The Holidays remind me, and hopefully you too, of the goodness that can still be found in this world, goodness that we each can create if we so choose.


The last few passengers deplaned as my colleagues and I crossed seat belts, carrying a white trash bag in one hand while picking up strewn newspapers and forlorn water bottles with the other.  As I reached Row 24, my eyes caught sight of a folded rectangle sitting quietly on the seat, unnoticed until now. Immediately I realized it was cash, a lot of cash.   And only cash.  No ID. No credit cards.  No boarding passing.  Nothing to say that the green bills belonged to someone.  “Mark!!!” I waved my coworker over to where I was standing.  “You know that guy that was sitting here?? I think he dropped his money, and I think it’s a lot of money.”  Even as I asked for Mark’s advice, I had already made a decision of what I had to do.  I knew I needed to find the passenger.  Mark asked me how much money was there, and I asked Mark if I should give it to the gate agent, both of us knowing that if the money left my hands to an outside party, the traveller would most definitely be out a few hundred dollars.  His only hope was that I find him, and my hope was that he would be waiting for luggage at the baggage carousel.  I stuffed the money in the pocket of my navy blue, and exited the aircraft.  I walked quickly through the terminal, Mark still by my side, parting ways at the escalator that would lead me to baggage claim and he to the employee bus.  Mark wished me luck.  Thank you. I would need it.

I scanned the crowds of people toting suitcases behind them, looking for a familiar face that would send me in the direction of where the passengers from my flight were waiting their luggage.  And then I saw him, almost immediately.  And I smiled.  As he shook hands with his seat mate that he had chatted with during the flight, both men turned, and showed a look of surprise at seeing the flight attendant from their flight blocking the way toward the exit.  “Check your pockets,” I said.  As the man fumbled, pulling the insides of the pockets into the sunshine, he looked up at me, with a question on his face.  “I think this belongs to you,” as I extended my arm with the offering.  Complete shock registered on his face and his seat mate’s who had stayed to witness the event.  “Thank you! Thank you so much!”  He looked at his new friend standing next to him, and as if I wasn’t there, said, “I can’t believe this!”  He repeated the that statement again, not so much for his seat mate’s benefit or mine, but maybe to ground himself in the moment.  I had the biggest grin on my face, so happy to be part of this story.  So happy to make this story happen in this way.  He reached in the wad of cash, about to share the winnings, and in defense, my outstretched arm communicated a definite ‘Stop,’ as my feet backpeddled me ever so slightly.

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I laughed, smiled, and said “No,”  as my head shook sideways in confirmation. “I travel so much, and you have no idea how many people have been SO good to me, helping me out when I’m in a bind. I’ve lost things.  I’ve been lost.  I’ve had people pay for my food or bus ticket. They’ve returned missing computers, and wouldn’t take any money as a thank you.”  I hadn’t returned this passenger’s money because I expected a reward.  The universe; God, people, maybe fate, whatever you want to call it, has watched over me.  I just know it.  I just believe it.  I have seen it too much to deny that there isn’t Someone watching over me.  I don’t know why I’ve been so fortunate and how good happens to me when I travel.  I meet good people.  I meet people that I put trust in, maybe almost too quickly, but they have honored that trust.  They have been worthy of that trust.  I’ve learned that when I travel, I will need people to help me, and I have to be willing to let them help me.  I’ve created a short history of these people appearing when I need them.

When I refused payment in the monetary form, he nodded in understanding.  I had already received my payment enough through his reaction and the feeling in my soul.  I had just been able to return some of the good that has happened to me.  He repeated a thank you, and said, “I’ll pay it forward.”

I hope that he has.

And to whomever he is, where ever he is, whatever he is doing, I hope that he remembers. Once again, not because I did something unique or amazing, but because I hope that it began a thought of marvel.  Of wanting to do good.  And I want to tell him thank you.  Because doing good things for others, to use the cliched phrase, does more for the person giving than the one receiving.  I want to say thank you for letting this story be in my life.  This is what my job is about to me.  This is The Flight Attendant Life; surprising people with goodness, renewing their faith in humanity, and even though serving cokes or picking up trash may not change a life, I want others to see Sparkle. Why does she smile like that?  And where do her bubbles come from?  I want to make them begin questioning.  I hope to be a catalyst in their discovery of a more beautiful existence.  Because this is the discovery that I have embarked on, and people have been part of that discovery for me.  People that I will NEVER be able repay.

All I can do is live my life in such a way:  Live to “Pay It Forward.”

Lisbon, Portugal

I want people to see Sparkle in me:)

About the Author Kara

Curious. Bubbly. Creative. Curating a life I don't need an escape from and inspiring you to do the same.

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1 comment
Ginger says December 26, 2012

I see the Sparkle 🙂 Great story!

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