Pay It Forward
By DC Steeves
Several months ago, as I was driving to the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) to see my girlfriend, Wendy, I noticed a young man walking on the shoulder of Canada’s busiest highways, the 401.
I was in the left lane, driving a little faster than the legal speed limit when I first noticed him, but as carefully as I could, I changed three lanes and pulled over to offer him a ride. Now, it is not unusual for me to pick up hitchhikers, or to stop when someone breaks down with their car, but he wasn’t hitchhiking and I hadn’t noticed any disabled cars in the vicinity. What I did notice, however, was the Military-issued camouflaged backpack over his shoulder. This was a soldier.
He told me he had just joined the Military, he was on his “trades” course at CFB Borden, he was driving back to Montreal to see his girlfriend when his car died, about 5 kilometers up the highway. He was trying to find a garage where he could buy a part to fix his car.
I knew immediately he wasn’t local, because he had no clue the closest garage was more than 10 miles away, and that he would likely not make it before it closed if he didn’t get a ride. It was just before 6:30 pm.
I drove as quickly as I could and in about fifteen minutes we made it to Clarington Canadian Tire (Canadian franchise service station and store). As he exited my car, he noticed my beret on the far side of the dashboard.
“Excuse me, are you in the Military?” he asked. ”What rank are you?”
I extended my hand, “My name’s DC Steeves. I’m a Sergeant.”
Shaking my hand, he said ”I’m Robert. Thanks for everything, Sergeant”.
“Forget the rank right now, go get what you need and I’ll take you back to your car before it gets dark,” I said.
He ran into the store, got what he needed and we drove back to his car. We fixed what we could so he could make it back to Canadian Tire to get a more permanent fix done. It was now just before 7:30 pm.
Robert attached a tube to his radiator, put in some liquids and did just enough to get the car started. He drove back to the Canadian Tire with me following, just to make sure he’d make it.
When we got back to the garage, I went in with Robert, hoping I could say the right thing to get the manager to put a little rush to get Robert’s car into the shop. Once he realized we were Military, the manager shuffled a few papers and it wasn’t more than 5 minutes before Robert’s car was on the hoist.
I was still a little concerned, so I asked Robert, “Are you going to be OK?”
“Yeah, sure. Hopefully it won’t be too much.” he replied.
I was reluctant, but I asked, “Do you have enough money to cover this?”
“I have a credit card for emergencies, so I should be alright.” was his answer.
“OK, what about if your car doesn’t get fixed, can you get a room, do you have cash for food?” I further inquired.
“I don’t have any cash, but I’m sure I can get an advance on my card if I have to, I’ll be alright.” he said.
I reached into my pocket and took out my wallet, “I don’t have much, but here’s some money just in case you can’t get any on your card”.
“I can’t take your money, I might not ever see you again and won’t be able to get it back to you,” he said.
“I’m not asking you, Robert, so don’t make me give you an order,” I said, with just enough authority to make him wonder if I were serious.
He accepted and tucked the 30 dollars into his pocket. ”Thanks Sergeant, hopefully I can pay you back some day”.
“I’m not worried about it, just promise me one thing. If you’re ever in a similar situation and you come across someone who needs your help, do whatever you have to to help him out, alright?”
He smiled at me, and I was surprised when he said, “‘Pay it forward,’ right Sergeant?”
I shook his hand again, wished him luck and continued my trip to see Wendy.
Fast forward to today and I was sitting in my cubicle. It was shortly before noon when my phone rang.
“Hi Sergeant, it’s Robert”. Then after a short pause, “The guy you helped out this summer, when my car was broken down on the 401″.
“Oh my! Robert. How are you?” I asked.
“I’m good,” he said. ”I graduated from my course today, I’m all done and I’ll be leaving Borden shortly and going home to Montreal. I was wondering if you’d be around this afternoon? I was hoping to stop by to say hello.”
“Awesome, congratulations!!! That would be great if we could meet up. If you’re leaving Borden now, that would put you in Kingston shortly after 3 pm. There’s a Tim’s just off the 401, how does that sound to you?” I asked.
At 3:15 pm, I arrived at Tim Horton’s where I had the pleasure to be introduced to Robert’s grandparents. Robert explained that he had a great course, he finished as the Top Student and was happy to be posted back to his hometown in Quebec. We chitchatted for about 20 minutes when Robert told me they had a long road ahead and should really get going in order to get back at a reasonable hour. After shaking hands with everyone and just before they left, Robert’s grandmother came over, gave me a big hug and whispered “Thank you!” in my ear, while placing a small envelope in my hand. Before I had a chance to protest, they were driving away and waving goodbye.
20 minutes later, as I made my way home, I peeled open the envelope and discovered a $100. bill. I immediately sent a text message to Robert informing him his grandmother had given me way too much money. Within a few minutes, I received the following text message in return.
“DC, this is Robert’s grandmother. For what you did for my grandson this summer, there’s not nearly enough money in that envelope. It wasn’t just your time, your gas or your generosity by giving Robert money; it was the positive influence and example that Robert will never forget. Your kind gesture had made such an impact on Robert; he’s a changed young man. For that, I cannot thank you enough. For what you did for my grandson, this is my way to ‘Pay it forward.’”
Derrick Curtis (“DC”) is a Sergeant and Lead Instructor for Pre-Deployment Training for the Canadian Forces (Canadian Army) currently stationed in Kingston, Ontario. A member of the Special Forces and Airborne, he has served in the Middle East, Africa and former Yugoslavia, as well as having served as a bodyguard for military VIPs. He also was a popular part time DJ at several of his assignments.
Father of four, DC is a skilled hockey, soccer and badminton player and has been known to do a mean karaoke when he’s not DJ’ing at local pubs.