Last year Sorrow, awesome woman and mother that she is, announced that she was pulling names from a hat and giving away five wonderful family-made gifts to people who signed up to have their names put in the hat. The only catch was that the winners had to pay it forward. A circle of giving, the kind of circle that starts like a pebble tossed into a pond, and radiates outward, growing larger and more encompassing.

I was one of the lucky winners, and I have a beautiful stained glass piece that I adore. I can’t look at it without thinking of Sorrow and her daughter making the piece, and of her whole family taking part in the gift making and giving with gleeful hearts. It gives me hope.

But paying it forward ended up being ironically difficult for me. I talked to Sorrow about it just recently. I do so much, it seems, but all of it feels like I’m already just paying people back for the incredible things that they do. Helping them is not paying it forward.

I was able to give a gift of a book to someone with the understanding that he was to pay it forward. He is a generous person by nature. I have a feeling he will have the same difficulty that I have had.

See, the problem isn’t finally doing something, the problem is in ever feeling like one of the things I do “counts”. That feeling, it bothers me. I’ve been working on it, but it lingers. What Sorrow and her family did was so beautiful, so much of themselves, I felt an intense desire to find something similar in myself. Expectations too high, perhaps?

Sorrow’s son asked her if they were doing the circle again this year. What a lovely family she has! And so the circle returns. I asked Sorrow if I could add something to the circle, and she graciously agreed. I wasn’t the only one to ask and to offer – I think, based on the comments she’s getting, that everyone is trying to give, she might have no one putting their name in the hat to take! The circle is a powerful thing.

Tonight on the way home, I finally started to reconcile my own feelings of inadequacy and conflict with regards to paying forward the gift of stained glass and hope that I received last year. I finally came to understand, as I pulled over to help a stranded motorist, that those are the little moments where I pay things forward. Those are the moments, distinct from activism or supporting others in their activism, that meet the spirit behind the circle.

My willingness to make the small effort to actually get out of my car to rescue the dog trying to cross a busy road. My willingness to pull a box spring out of the path of other people, though it was not in my way. My willingness to ask someone if they need help, and pull over so I can help him move his out-of-gas car out of the way of traffic. (Note to motorists: asking a cyclist where the nearest gas station is will generally yield no results!)

Not everyone stops. Most everyone does not stop, let alone offer to help.

That’s where I finally found my fulfillment of the promise I made last year. Thank you, Sorrow, for encouraging me to look a little deeper.