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Today I undertook the lauded task of paying it forward. I managed to catch the early bus this morning but only because a man held it up by taking forever to load his bike on the front. Because it was snowy, I didn’t want to run and die but fortunately, his dawdling was my benefit. Once on the bus, I took my lucky seat in the back and watched as the same man tore through his coat seemingly looking for his fare. This went on for at least four stops and finally, I snagged two dollars from my bag and walked to the front to hand it to him. He thanked me profusely and tried to give me the card with the left over fare—apparently, he was looking for a transfer. I refused it and he appeared overcome with religious grief at the small kindness.

I watched his reflection in the window for the rest of the ride. He clutched himself, he jumped up, he pulled at his head, he removed his jacket and replaced it. I wondered if this was some sort of ecstasy at having been helped but the more I watched, the more I began to wonder. Having seen plenty of people on meth in my life, I realized that the man was high.

Now, does this counter my kindness? Did I do a disservice to the bus driver who had a perfectly fine reason for removing him before I paid his fare? Will the man pass out—he’d been closing his eyes and blowing raspberries to stay awake? I felt panicked by the possible repercussions. Something like this has happened to me before.

Once, in Harvard Square, I gave a homeless man five dollars. He proceeded to follow me up the street claiming there was much more where that came from, demanding, sexually harassing me. As a small person, I have always tried to be careful in these situations and after that I tended to stay away from moments where I could pay it forward. I feel confused about this. The desperate romantic in me wants to say this situation was an anomaly, that the man was not going to score somewhere on the fringe of A2 and instead needed to get to a shelter or his job, that the homeless man was suffering from some other malady that made him aggressive.

I guess I’m making this post because in today’s climate, paying it forward seems so valuable. But, how can people continue to provide service for the underserved and each other in an immediate way right? Like, I can donate money to the White Helmets in Syria but how can I see the results--(although, please do donate to this)? I want to be able to safely talk to people on the street and help where I see I can help. Does anyone have suggestions? Have you also felt confused by the pay it forward trend? How do we help better?

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