More than just a movie title, these words remain in my heart as advice from a former co-worker who passed away from cancer late last week.
Marti and I worked together in a mental health office: I was the evening secretary and she was, well, pretty much all other things clerical at that time of the day:
She dealt with insurance companies, processed paperwork, and scheduled appointments. She was the secretary for the MD who came in once a week. And she did it all dressed to the nines in her impeccably organized office.
Marti worked and laughed hard; she had a friendly and compassionate demeanor that made her beloved by both clients and co-workers alike.
I received a Christmas gift from Marti--and several other coworkers-- not even a year after I started working in the office. One day during the season, after the day shift left, I sat at my desk quietly, looking through the latest Christmas trinkets that had made their way to my mailbox, embarrassed because I knew that I would not be able to give gifts in return.
At the time, I had a new baby at home, a pile of debt, and barely two pennies to rub together after all the bills were paid each month. I hadn't the time, energy, or money to spread any tangible Christmas cheer.
Marti must've sensed my angst because she asked me what was wrong and I told her--even more embarrassed-- and she started shaking her head. "No, no, no," she said. "No one gives you a gift expecting anything in return. That's not what Christmas is all about."
I nodded my head slowly, considering but not convinced, my pride still wounded as it was.
She studied my face and then added, thoughtfully, "Don't worry about giving something back now, Michelle. Just receive the kindness, and, when you can, pay it forward."
Pay it forward.
Toward the end of this August, though unbeknownst to me at the time, Marti's health started to take a turn for the worse. Around that same time, our priest wrote a bulletin on forgiveness with perhaps a poignant passage for this place and time:
"'Offended' is a word that in our society is overused. Would that it might go away from our vocabulary, for we use it to persecute those who bring offense by lawsuits, and legal actions.
"How different would our world be today if in every case that we were offended we could simply 'forgive and forget' the offense? We'd still have prayer in schools. There would be no civil strife in the streets. And the divorce rate would be near zero.
"Repent. Forgive. These two are the formula for living a life pleasing to God."
Just before I left my secretarial job, Marti scribbled "pay it forward" on a business card and gave it to me.
What she had done, perhaps unwittingly, was written me her reminder of not just how to handle a blue Christmas, but how to live a life in the Christian Faith: to pay forward the forgiveness and kindness that God (often through others in my life) has shown to me, without expecting anything in return.
In a world that currently seems shrouded in all manner of fears and hell-bent on tearing itself apart with "eye-for-an-eye" sentiments, perhaps the crazy-but-true way to handle such harrowing times--or any times for that matter-- is to be kind, to forgive:
To let go of the foibles and failings we ALL display, probably more often than we'd like to admit.
To give second chances. And maybe even thirds and fourths.
To shut up when we have nothing kind to say.
To stuff our newsfeeds and tweets and salt-of-the-earth, human interactions (remember those?) with love, respect, and encouragement instead of political lambasts, negativity, and vitriolic statements that strip everyone who disagrees with us of their humanity.
Pay it forward: unable as I am to travel to her out-of-town calling hours and funeral, this is the way I want to pay my respects to a wonderful woman who, though imperfect, passed on the love and compassion overflowing from her own generous heart.
Remember Marti, O Lord, in Your Kingdom.
May her memory be eternal.