Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series that highlights the Pay it Forward movement with stories of ordinary people benefiting from acts of kindness and how they choose to pay that kindness forward.
BANGOR, Maine — It was Mark Twain who said clothes make the man (or the woman). But for the Rev. Rene Garrett, minister of Christian nurture at All Souls Church in Bangor, and the Rev. Tim Hall, pastor of Trinitarian Congregational Parish of Castine, UCC, it was shoes that told the tale.
In a recent conversation at All Souls, the pair talked about how the need for shoes surfaced in their lives and made them recipients of kindness they continue to pay forward, both personally and professionally.
“We celebrate what Rick is doing with Pay it Forward,” Garrett said, referring to Rick Bernstein, who with his wife, Heather, foster the Pay it Forward movement in the Bangor area. “It’s what we do. It’s part of church DNA. It’s a great message to carry to young people and the congregation.”
Garrett said she was a basketball player at California State University Fresno in the mid-1970s when the her roommate noticed her athletic shoes and saw that she needed a new pair. In those days, team members bought their own shoes, but getting new court shoes was not in Garrett’s budget until her student loans came through. A team meeting was called and at the gathering, the team presented Garrett with new shoes.
“I was dying a thousand deaths,” she said, “because I wanted to be able to take of myself.” The team captain, noticing her discomfort at accepting the gift, took her aside and said, “Someday, sometime, buy somebody a pair of shoes.”
That chance came five years ago when Hall, then an All Souls parishioner, was about to interview for the position of pastor at Frankfort Congregational Church, an occasion that called for him to put his best foot forward to make a good first impression on interviewers. Garrett noticed that Hall’s loafers had seen better days.
“Years had gone by since I was given the athletic shoes,” she said, “but I remembered what I had been told and at last here was my chance to pay it forward and buy shoes for someone.”
She checked with Hall’s wife to make sure such a gift wouldn’t cause embarrassment and the next thing Hall knew he was taking steps toward his future in the brand new pair of loafers Garrett gave him. He got the job.
“When someone wants to help us, defenses can come up,” Garrett said. “We want to take care of ourselves.”
Hall was happy to accept the shoes.
“Altruism has no ego,” Hall said. “When someone tries to help, let them.” The experience of receiving the shoes, he said, “made me more open to kindness.”
“The question is,” Garrett said, “is why do we push those helping hands away?”
Hall and Garrett agreed that it’s important to learn to accept gifts gracefully, with thank yous given freely.
Hall continues to Pay it Forward each year through the Angel Tree project which provides items to those in need during the Christmas season. He looks for requests for boots and that’s what he purchases.
“It’s an anonymous gift,” he said, “but it’s the same altruism.”
In retrospect, Garrett said, she realizes that when the basketball team chipped in to buy shoes for her, it was their way of saying, “We’re so behind you.”
It helps people to receive if they have a notion they can pay it forward, Hall said.
Commenting on the Pay it Forward movement taking root in area organizations of late, Hall said, “It’s not up to someone else to take care of others, it’s up to us. There’s a growing awareness that we have a personal stake in that.”
“It opens you up so you can participate in making the community what you want it to be,” Garrett said. “It gives you a sense of ownership in the well being of the person you seek to help.”