Sunday, July 20, 2008

Paying it Forward

I have an amazing friend who I have known for about nine years now. Her name is Janis--she's smart, witty and full of life and zeal. Janis and I became friends when we both became pregnant with twins. I had Charlie and Xander in September of 2000 and she had Jimmy and Joe in October of that year.

Jimmy & Joe

A few years ago Janis was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was far advanced before it was found and caused her to lose her breast. She beat the disease at the time and has enjoyed perhaps a year of freedom from her illness. However recently, she has been experiencing pain in her legs and pelvis.

Several doctor visits later and it has become clear that Janis once again has breast cancer, except now it has metastasized into her bones. She will not be leaving us any time soon, in the measurement of days, but she won't live a long life like the rest of us expect for ourselves. Janis says she can see three years for herself, but at the moment she isn't expecting more--if she can have that much, she'll be happy.


That's pretty harsh, isn't it? Could you say that for yourself, honestly? Don't get me wrong. Janis says, every day, "Cancer sucks." But she's choosing to face her future with grace, and ... realism.

Part of Janis' reality is that she can't do all the things that she needs to do in life. She's in pain. And things are going to become even more difficult as she endures the endless treatments ahead. Ever pragmatic, Janis went about trying to find ways to deal with the realities of her future.

A friend recommended a wonderful philanthropic organization, Cleaning for a Reason. "This newly formed nonprofit offers free professional housecleaning services to improve the lives of women undergoing treatment for cancer" (from the website.)

Janis contacted them, however they didn't have a cleaning service participating in their program in Janis' area. Not one to be denied, Janis contacted a local Molly Maids service in Michigan and spoke with the owner, Tim Shellen.

Unfortunately, Mr. Shellen was not able to help her because he doesn't service her county in Michigan. He expressed interest in the organization but suggested that Janis contact someone in her own area for her needs.

It was a good conversation, but ultimately fairly useless.

Until Mr. Shellen called Janis back.

He is going to provide her with housecleaning services one to two times a month for as long as she needs it. When she related this story to me, she said, "I am so extremely grateful. I told him he just doesn't know how much this means to me. this is just a blessing, more than anyone can imagine."

But when she asked Mr. Shellen what she could do to repay him? He said, "Pay it forward."

Benjamin Franklin, is first attributed with the concept of paying it forward in a letter to Benjamin Webb dated April 22, 1784:

"I do not pretend to give such a Sum; I only lend it to you. When you [...] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro' many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money."

Janis asked all of her friends to write Mr. Shellen a thank you note--and she has a lot of friends! And I thought, I would write about him here and encourage all of you to look around you and see how you have been blessed and how you might pay it forward.

I love Mr. Franklin's concept of doing much with a little money--and I might add, with a little effort, a little time. If we all strove to pay it forward, to do a little good as it was done to us, we might find ourselves living in a much better, a much happier, world.