In December 2013 I experienced a deep and personal loss: the death of my mother. Two days before Christmas, a man I had never met before came to my home and handed me a holiday card. It read “Charleen, I don’t know you, but from a mutual friend I heard about your mom’s recent passing. I am positive your mom would want you to have everything on your Christmas list. God Bless!”
Inside of this card was $500 in gift cards. For me, this meant much more than getting everything on my Christmas list. It reminded me that people can be kind, and good, and generous; it filled me with joy, and appreciation.
The man was Christopher Chiarenza, a 43 year old from Long Island, and while I didn’t know it at the time I was not the first, or the last, recipient of his generosity. Although Christopher usually likes to remain anonymous, he agreed to be interviewed, and be a part of this project, to encourage others to pay it forward.
Christopher does many acts of kindness similar to what he did for me, especially around the holidays, a time when people are often in need and should spend time being happy. In order to do these good deeds, Christopher uses other people in the community to submit the names and stories of those who are deserving or are in need. He feels he has “been blessed financially,” and therefore he is able to assist people financially.
When asked how this project of got started, Christopher described the type of person he is now and the type of person he used to be. “My personality [in my twenties] was a little different, I was very self-absorbed.” Christopher went on to say that it wasn’t until he reached his thirties that he began to examine what type of person he was and realized the importance of helping others.
Talking about inspiration and role models, Christopher described the loss of his father when he was young and the profound affect that had on him. He feels it deprived him of positive influences in his life, which encouraged him to look to his faith. Christopher has been inspired by his religious community and its teachings, crediting it with teaching him the philosophy that “you reap what you sow.” He has come to believe, “…that’s the law of the land, and it’s the truth.”
Christopher has done this type of good deed each holiday season for several years. When asked why he continues to do these good things for people in his community, and why this project matters to him, Christopher answered simply and humbly: “Doing this makes me feel better about myself as a person.” He continued by saying that he can sometimes revert back to his selfish ways and that helping people helps to remind him of what is important.
Speaking from experience, being on the receiving end of someone who is paying it forward, even the most random acts of kindness from a total stranger can change your whole outlook on the world and the people in it. Being one of the people Christopher helped, I was reminded of the importance of kindness, and the way it can make people feel, as though people really care in the world. That is a feeling that, I believe, has the power to truly change the world.
My own personal experiences, as well as my conversation with Christopher, has reminded me of the power that each one of us has – to change a stranger’s day and to change the world as a whole – by channeling kindness, and paying it forward: one kind act at a time.