When I was a college student in Philadelphia, a good friend and I would occasionally venture downtown to take in a little culture with a concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Academy of Music often made student tickets available just a few minutes before the concert was about to start. On one occasion, Midori, the famous young violinist, was scheduled to perform. We knew that chances were very slim that we would be able to get tickets as the concert would likely be sold out. We decided to give it a shot and at least enjoy a nice dinner in the city and try our luck.

When we got to the box office, just as we thought, the performance was completely sold out. No student tickets, or any other tickets for that matter, were available at all. As we turned to go on our merry way and head back to campus, an elegantly-dressed old woman approached us. She was apparently waiting for a friend who never showed. “You look like a nice young couple,” she said. “Would you like my tickets?” My friend politely asked her how much she wanted for them, expecting the price to be much higher than we could afford. “Nothing” she replied. “Perhaps one day when you are my age, you will do the same thing for someone else.” We gratefully took the tickets, thanked the woman profusely and found our seats. Sixth-row center. They didn’t get much better than that. They would have cost a fortune, at least for two college students.

The concert was beautiful and Midori’s playing was simply magical. For about two hours, I wasn’t a college student in the throws of exams and stress. I was a million miles away, escaping to a peaceful, melodic haven. I couldn’t help think throughout the entire concert about the woman who gave us the tickets. Who was she waiting for? Why didn’t they show up? Why didn’t she stay and enjoy the concert herself? Did she leave the box office feeling lonely and disappointed by being stood-up? Or was she happy knowing that her kindness brought some much needed peace and respite to two young students? I closed my eyes, listened to the glorious sounds of the violin and orchestra, and pondered all of those things. Her misfortune turned into our fortune. Another God-wink? Perhaps.

I’m not sure there is a better representation of the expression “pay it forward”. Will my friend or I, or both of us, do the same for someone else some day? Yes. Here it is, more than twenty years later, and I remember that night, and the natural high it brought, like it was just yesterday. I hope that when I am her age, I’m not standing alone waiting on someone who never comes. I hope I continue to hear the beautiful music. And I hope that night ended peacefully for her, with a simple explanation for why her friend never came. But if I do find myself in the position to pay it forward, I most certainly will. When we open our eyes, we can see the God-winks all around us. And sometimes, God places the “winks” in our own hands to do with them what we will.

As Plato said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination
and life to everything.” A pretty amazing thing to pay forward.