A tragic and inspirational story: the ripple effect
"He said, 'Just do it for somebody else.'
That's when it dawned on me that it was one of those pay it forward scenarios
and that it would mean a lot to him if I accepted."
It was one of those days. It was Nov. 10, 2015. Jamie-Lynne Knighten had just returned home from a visit with family in her native Ontario, Canada. Jamie, her husband and young children were moving into their new San Diego, Calif. home. She was picking up groceries at a supermarket.
She had taken her youngest child with her to the store. The five-month-old was being fussy. The shopping excursion took an hour and a half. When she reached the checkout, she realized she had forgotten her debit card at home.
The grocery total was more than $200. She remembered she had her Canadian credit card with her. Jamie gave the cash she had on hand to the cashier and swiped her Canadian credit card. Declined. She swiped it again. Declined. She surmised that they had put an anti-fraud lock on the card because of her travels and she called the credit card company to have it lifted. Her phone died. A line was forming behind her at the checkout. She was trying to hold it together.
It was one of those days.
“Take us back to the day in the grocery store. How did you come to meet?” was the question posed to Jamie-Lynne Knighten by CBC Radio As it Happens host Carol Off.
Jamie recalled that she was about to ask the cashier if they could hold her purchases so she could return home to fetch her debit card when a stranger’s voice said “May I?”
“May you what?” she replied.
“May I take care of your groceries?”
She protested with her thanks. After all, it was a large purchase and this was a stranger.
The stranger replied “I would like to. Do me one thing. Just do it for somebody else.”
Jamie realized he was serious and this was a pay-it-forward gesture. She accepted.
As they left the store, she introduced herself and learned the young man who had performed this random act of kindness was named Matthew. She shared with Matthew that her family had just moved to the area and that she was feeling a little overwhelmed. She inquired where he worked and he responded “LA Fitness”. Jamie promised herself that she would follow up with Matthew in the days ahead to thank him more formally.
It would be another week before she would learn that Matthew’s last name was Jackson. That he was 28 years old. That he died in a car accident on Nov. 11, 2015.
Jamie had called the local gym about a week after the encounter and spoke with Matthew’s manager in hopes of reaching him and reconnecting. It was through tears that his manager told her about the tragedy.
When Jamie called her husband to tell him the sad news, it hit him hard. The stereotypical Marine, who doesn’t get upset about too many things, was shaken by the news. It was a cold reminder of how fragile life is.
Jamie came to know about Matthew and his character from his boss who had worked with him for four years. She told Jamie “That’s who he was. Always doing for other people. Never asking for anything in return.” Through his co-workers, Jamie was able to connect with Matthew’s mother and spent two hours discovering more about who Matthew Jackson was.
"She told me that he was a big sweetheart that was always doing things for other people. One thing she's really proud of is that he's a bear hugger. In every photo that you see of him with somebody, he doesn't just have one arm around them. He's giving them a huge bear hug. And that's what it felt like when he paid for my groceries and took care of me."
Jamie created a Facebook page called Matthew’s Legacy asking people to do something extraordinary for a stranger to honor Matthew and help restore faith in humanity. The response has been worldwide and the stories are heartwarming. Jamie says she wants for her children “to recognize that they can actively participate in making a positive change in the world like he did.” She goes on to say “It doesn’t have to be monetary. It doesn’t have to be huge and grandiose. Create a lifestyle of kindness. Help people in small ways or big ways. Whatever you can do. Every little bit helps.”
Matthew’s legacy endures and Jamie is paying it forward.
A powerful leadership lesson for us all to contemplate.
- Ro Crosbie is president of Tero International, a premier interpersonal skills and corporate training company.