Paying it Forward

October 26th, 2009 by Ann

There’s a man here in our area who is called the San Diego Highwayman. Sixty-something, he is a gardener — not only a backyard gardener, but a gardener sewing the seeds of kindness on our interstates. A former mechanic, Thomas Weller spends a big chunk of his time cruising local highways in his own “Search and Rescue” station wagon, on the lookout for someone having a roadside emergency. He says there’s just too much anger, distrust, and fear in this world and by offering a helping hand he hopes to be doing a little to make the world a kinder place. It all started 40 years ago, when he plowed into an Illinois snow bank and would have frozen to death had it not been for a stranger who helped him out. When he asked the stranger how he could repay him, the Good Samaritan simply told him to pass along the favor to someone else.

The San Diego Highwayman has been paying it forward ever since — to the tune of about 5,000 favors. When someone he’s helped asks how to repay him, Mr. Weller simply hands him a card that says: “Assisting you has been my pleasure. I ask for no payment other than for you to pass along the favor by helping someone in distress that you may encounter.”

Now, I’m thinking that if you’re “lucky” enough to be stalled on the freeway shoulder with an overheated radiator, a flat tire, an empty gas tank, or any number of problems, and the San Diego Highwayman pulls up behind your car, it could be a life-changing experience, or rather, a world changing experience. Such blatant and dramatic acts of kindness don’t happen that often, and I think that being the recipient of such an act would be impossible to forget. Having been on the receiving end of Thomas Weller’s generosity and caring would change the way we respond when faced with an opportunity to be of assistance to someone in need. One act of kindness can multiply exponentially if enough of us pay favors forward.

Not too long ago, the Highwayman pulled up behind a couple of cars, one disabled and the other assisting. Pleased that another person was out there willing to help a motorist in a pinch, he asked the do-gooder why he’d stopped to help this stranger. The man replied that a while back, his wife had had a blow-out and had been helped by a man who gave her a card asking for no payment, but rather to return the favor to someone in need.

May we all be on the giving end this holiday season, in some form or another, knowing that our actions could be smoothing the rough edges of life of someone in need. I think that Mr. Weller, sower of seeds of goodwill, would be first to tell you that the pleasure would be nearly all yours.

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