Pay it forward

We came by our latest house in a very peculiar way. The owner had noticed Tim walking up and down the street between rentals. She had talked to people up and down the street about him, and she had talked to our tenants about their landlord. In the end, she chose him to buy her house.

Tim told me of this mysterious meeting. Truth be told, I was not really happy about it. We were already in the middle of one renovation that was fraught with unexpected delays and changes of plan. We certainly did not need another project, not right at the minute, anyhow, but I reluctantly accompanied him to the meeting toting William on my hip and I was ready to be firm in my refusal to buy.

I was shocked to see who we were meeting. She and I knew each other from the days at the Conservation District. She was just as shocked to find out that I was Tim’s wife. She laid out her plan for both of us. She had picked us to buy her property because she wanted the property in the hands of people who she could trust to pay her kindness forward.

We argued with her as William slept on my shoulder and the breeze blew through the trees, but she was adamant. She had a plan and she felt strongly that we were to be a part of it. Tim and I walked home both of us shocked silent by this turn of events. Tim said several times, “Just remember, you’re the one who bought THIS house.”

How do you pay a kindness forward?

Joan was a woman who believed very strongly that education and knowledge were the things that would save this world. She believed in protecting our environment. She loved animals. I knew that contributing to any of these things would honor her. There were plenty of opportunities to pay it forward. I was not concerned.

But then, suddenly, breathtakingly, Cara was going to Afghanistan to teach, and in the tumult of the weeks between that announcement and her actual departure, I began to get the prickles of awareness, a feeling that this was not a mere coincidence, an idea that forces were at work here on a scale far greater than I could comprehend.

I tried to explain it to a friend. “What if Cara’s new job is ‘paying it forward’ for Joan on a grand cosmic, God orchestrated scale? Does that make sense?” and Andrew, whose great gift is ‘understanding’ looked at me and said, “Oooh. I got prickles when you said that.”

I’ve been watching things unfold, and it has been a difficult time. Three days after she flew in, the very same airport was attacked by militants with guns and bombs. People were killed. There was a suicide bombing of a military outpost. More dead. Sunday morning, before church, another suicide bombing, this close to her work. 4 dead. 35 injured. All within her first month.

The first attack terrified me, and mass e-mails went out. By yesterday, I was much more practical. I took a deep breath and went immediately to get a full accounting from LA Times. I’ve come learn that I can depend on them to have the latest news with facts and eyewitness accounts, minimal misinformation and no hyperbole.

I’m not blase about the risks or the bombings. I’ve come to realize that they seem to be a fact of life in the place that my child has chosen to go. They are hard to listen to but it is her reality.

Even harder for me to take are her stories of the children of Kabul. Her latest story caused me to weep before I’d finished my morning coffee. She wrote: ‘My only rule of thumb here is that no matter what I see, I can’t think too hard about it. I can only fix so much here and time spent worrying about what I can’t fix, is time wasted on what I can. Today, I watched a young boy walk from storefront to storefront tipping the empty water jugs into his mouth, trying to get a few drops of clean water. He looked up at me with such a pained expression. Every once in a while, I break my own rule.’

Oh dear God. When I hear these sorts of stories, I cannot stop myself from inserting the face of my own beloved grandchild into them. What if? What if it were my little William wandering up and down the streets of a busy and dangerous city, dirty and alone, desperately searching for water? What if.

I cried hard over that mental picture. We pay the government of Afghanistan billions of dollars in aid to fix these problems, yet the majority of that money cannot even be accounted for disappearing into the pockets of corrupt government officials. It’s just gone, and the people continue on in a desperate struggle to live, their lives unchanged. I wondered how in the hell we could claim military advances there when the children go hungry and thirsty in the same streets where rabid animals are rampant.

And then a strange thing happened. There was a realization, a glimmer of comprehension. Tim and I have been charged to pay it forward. Here is a need. This is a big project but I cannot think of anything that would be a greater honor to our friend Joan.

Where do I begin? I don’t even know, and if any reader out there does, I most certainly want to talk to you. I struggle with where to begin, but in the end, I set out using the one tool that I have at my disposal. I write about it.

Debby Hornburg can be reached at debby(underscore)