Pay it forward

“Pay it forward” means that when you receive a favor from someone, you do not return it directly to that person, but do a good turn for someone else. There is no upper limit to the number of people you can give your support and gratitude to, even if you receive help just once.

Friday morning last week, I looked out at the park in front of my house, and among the people walking their dogs and the parents and children playing was an elderly man lying on a bench. The sun was warm, so I thought, "Maybe he's here to soak up the sun". I didn't pay much attention to him at that time, since elderly people often come to this park to rest and relax.


However, when I took in the laundry around 3:00 p.m., he was still sitting on the park bench. When I went out in the evening to do some errands, he was still there, and when I looked at the park on my way home, he was still sitting there even though it was almost 6:00pm.


I thought this was strange, so I grabbed a pocket warmer I had at home, bought a warm cup of milk tea from the vending machine, and walked up to him.


"Ojisan, aren't you cold? He was so cold that he couldn't move his fingers and he also couldn't open the pull-top of the can. I immediately put a pocket warmer (hokairo) on his back and on the backs of his socks. "Ojisan, have you eating anything today?" "No," he said, "I haven't eaten anything since yesterday."


I ran to the local supermarket, bought some pork miso soup and rice balls, heated them, and went back to the park. "Please eat this while it's warm," I said to him. Holding up the food and showing his appreciation, he ate it as quickly as he could. While he was eating, I looked up homeless support groups on the Internet and called them, asking for help.


The closest support group I could find was in Osaka, but they contacted the department in charge of helping the homeless in Kyoto City. At first, they said they could help us if he walked to city hall, but I told them, "My parents are also over 80 years old, and there is no way they can walk over 40 minutes after spending so much time out in the cold. “But it's too late," he explained to me. But I argued, "It's not midnight, it's still evening! Are you just going to let him die out here? I can't sleep if you leave a person as old as my parents to die out in the cold! "


Finally, two members from a local volunteer group came to the park to pick him up and he was allowed to stay at a homeless shelter for the weekend. Even though it was the end of the week, the city officials and the support group volunteers decided to discuss what to do with him late Friday evening. Both the support group in Osaka and the city staff called me politely to report what they had done and to thank me. I think they are all also doing their very best to save even one person’s life.


I had only stayed with him for about two hours, but even so, my feet were freezing cold and my body was chilled to the core. The old man had been sleeping outside for about a week due to unavoidable personal circumstances. When he got into the car, his body was so cold that he couldn’t move normally, and he was barely able to walk even with two people supporting him. I really think he did his best to be able to survive outside during the winter for a week. It must have been hard on his mind and body. He is a wonderful man who had been working as a carpenter until he was 75. He explained that he had fallen into this situation for various reasons. I'm sure he couldn't have imagined that he would be over 80 years old and not have a roof over his head or food to eat. But this kind of disaster can happen to anyone. The children who are currently hiding in bomb shelters in Ukraine were probably playing outside until a month ago. They could not have imagined that they would be shivering with cold and hunger because of war.


Over the course of my lifetime, I have been helped and treated kindly by so many different people. Because of this, I now have enough time every day to live healthily and happily and even have the time to enjoy a cup of coffee at a local café some days. As someone who has received so much help and support, I feel that it is my responsibility to pay all of these things forward at least 10 times as much as I have personally received.


If there is an elderly person who is barely making it through a crosswalk in time for the light to change, I will walk behind him, keeping pace with him. If the traffic light actually changes color, I will wave my hands to stop the approaching cars. If there is a visually impaired person in front of me, I will ask if I can help. If there is a lost and crying child, I can hold his or her hand, talk gently to them and take them to the nearest information booth or police station. You don't need to spend money to do any of these things.


Other than these things in our daily lives, we are also giving donations to support children who are struggling to make ends meet and to help them go on to higher education. This is because I have experience teaching such children at my dojo, and I don't want them to lose hope for the future just because of financial concerns. My dojo has also been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are doing our best to keep it running even through such a dire situation, but there are still many things that we can do.


I wrote this story not to brag about things that I do or have done, but to bring to your attention something that you may not have noticed until now. We never know when an emergency will happen and we should always be prepared for one to occur even when we are personally living a comfortable life.


It is a shame that the man who is now troubling the world with war has learned judo, but seems to have forgotten the concept of "seiryoku zenyo, jita kyoei" from Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, which means that we should use all of our energy for mutual prosperity for the benefit of everyone in society. I think he too should pay attention to "pay it forward" instead of focusing on "payback".


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