Nothing excited me more as a thirteen year old than walking into a classroom and seeing the old television cart all set up. Watching movies over a regular lesson plan is something anyone my age would pick. But, this was more than just watching a film. As I took the same seat in the 3rd row as I normally do, Mr. Tartaglia took a fresh piece of chalk and slid it across the chalkboard. The words were clear as day, much like a theater screen. “How Will You Pay It Forward?”
The question raced through my head like all of the words were gibberish. What does he mean? I stared at my best friends Abel and Claudio and they seem to have already dazed off. But, I knew these words had to have meaning. The teacher doesn’t say anything as to the foreign words he just wrote. He took a disc out of its case and popped it in the DVD player. As soon as the title menu came on, the chalkboard sprung to life with meaning. We are watching Pay It Forward.
I remember first viewing this film three years prior as a ten year old. All I can recall is my mother falling asleep and snoring halfway through the film where I could not hear a word after that. So, to get a second viewing would probably expand my opinion. Besides, my mother was working and could not possibly be coming into the classroom anytime soon. Play is pressed on the menu and everyone is immediately brought into a world of remorse. The actions committed by each character show us all that someone is always having a worse day than you. As the film tagged along, Trevor, a twelve year old boy who lives with his alcoholic mother and his father is criminally unable to take care of them, is introduced as a helpless child who is almost self-dependent but is aiming to make a change in the world as a whole: Paying It Forward. Then, the words on the chalkboard sprung to life like some pop-up book. After the film ended and the tears stopped streaming down our faces, Mr. Tartaglia finally explained our unoriginal assignment: We must act like we are one of the students in the film’s teacher’s class and find some way to impact the world.
Is he serious? Does he actually think a bunch of thirteen year olds can change the world? I mean, it happened in the movie but that is a movie. Children in films are never like actual kids, we don’t get a script telling us what to do; we must find a way to get things done ourselves. It’s almost like he was setting us all up for failure already. But, I was not about to let some silly project defeat me that easily. I will accept his challenge head-on and prove to him that some scrawny thirteen year old can successfully help change the world we live in.
The bell rung and we were dismissed to lunch. As I dropped my gigantic Adidas backpack off on a shelf, I walked past a seventh grader who was sitting alone at a lunch table on his first day as a new student. He had a simple tuna fish sandwich in a brown paper bag and a small bottle of water. He stared at all the full tables of chatting students eating cafeteria items such as cupcakes, pizza, and Gatorade. He seemed happy, but I know he believes he is invisible to the world. My best friends, Abel and Claudio, signaled me to our table as I grabbed a bag of Hostess Cupcakes and a slice of pepperoni pizza from the lunch line. The lunch lady seemed to be on her A-game that day, scolding every kid possible for little things such as putting food back, acting crazy in the line, and even taking too long to give her money for our lunches. Since when has she been this cruel?
Lunch was short as always but the day seemed shorter than usual. Abel and Claudio were doing their usual crazy antics horsing around with a friend, throwing food on his tray because he was overweight. I used to do this too, but something about the movie we saw earlier made me stop. I had to be the one to conduct a conversation: “So, what do you guys think you are doing for the project?” They just stared at me and shrug their shoulders. I wish I could just shrug my shoulders and not have a care in the world like them. But, this project has become my new goal.
The end of the school day has come and I started walking home. Glimpsing at my new K-Swiss sneakers, I looked around and saw the same loner kid from the lunchroom sitting on the bench watching the baseball team do runs around the field, kicking more and more dirt with each pass. I could not spend too much time watching as my mother would go crazy over where I am if I am even a second late so I kept walking by. Walking past the crossing guard to my street, my mind was racing of all the possibilities I could do to pay it forward. I must think like Trevor, I must be Trevor. It was not helping that I happened to look exactly like him as a kid. I even had the same messy hairstyle. I passed the homeless man who always walks to Dunkin Donuts right by my house and thought about when Trevor took home a homeless man in the film. However, my mother would not be as inviting as Trevor’s mom. Besides, this man did not smell or look friendly. So, that was not possible.
My mechanical pencil hit the page hoping for words to start formulating. As a crack of lead breaks, the pencil slipped from my hand onto the cold hardwood floor. Suddenly, I started to feel like an episode of Spongebob Squarepants where all he could write for his essay was the word “The”. But, I did not even have one word down. The sirens of the phone came alive as my mother shut them off. When the phone clicks, her mouth slowly went downhill. She left the kitchen and entered her bedroom without uttering one single sound. I followed along treading every foot step as I crept into her room to see her on the bed crying. I break the tension with “What’s wrong”? Four small words exited her mouth very carefully as if what she could say will hurt: “My best friend died.”
I was unsure as to how to react. Death is not something I was used to. All I could remember was Trevor’s death scene in Pay It Forward and remembering that key moment made me feel what my mother felt. No time went by without my hands wrapping around my mother’s waist and consuming her for what seemed like a lifetime. Yes, we have embraced each other in the past but this was different, this hug made us connected where our emotions flowed from one body to the next. It was almost as if I was a battery and she was copper and when combined, sparks flew. I could not feel her pain, I could not take the pain away, all I could do is help make it better. A smile upon her face signaled that I, in fact, accomplished the impossible; erasing sadness. All I was sure of is the pain shown through her eyes was hard to watch and I could only imagine what it would be like to lose someone you care for. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple body contact with the one you love to show your true caring for someone.
The next day of school arrived almost too fast. We discussed how our projects should be coming along in history and everyone else seemed to already be starting but their projects were not extraordinary; they were only ordinary. Some kids wanted to recycle more or save water. But, those tasks seemed too simple. At lunch, I grabbed the same pouch of Hostess cupcakes with the creamy filling and the spiraled frosting. Abel and Claudio were acting the same way; passing food around to the overweight kid sitting with us. My eyes followed like it was Wimbledon as I see an apple fly across, then a piece of bread, and finally a meatball. The flowing of food from one side of the table to the next tired me out until I screamed, “Stop!”
Their expressions had a note of surprised on their faces but I think I was more shocked than they were. I erase the silence by clearing the tray of the bullied child except for the food he purchased. Abel squealed “What are you doing?” He said a bit louder “What are you doing?” I stopped and stared at his face like it was the first time I saw him. I fired back “Why would you throw food at him when he clearly does not want it?” He argued “Why not?” What comes out of my mouth at that moment made jaws drop around the table. “You are just a bully who is obviously insecure about yourself so you get off on making others feel worse about themselves.” He scolded me, “What’s your problem?” “My problem is that you are my best friend”. I picked up the cupcakes, got up, and walked away, the kid I saved following behind. We slid a chair from out behind a table and lay our worries down. The overweight kid, named Kyle, looked at me as I passed a cupcake to the once loner kid after sitting with him. His facial expression finally changes as he looks down at the token of friendship.
He introduces himself to us as James. After our mini introductions, he ventures off into a speech about the current baseball statistics. The whole baseball field situation is so clear now; his dream revolves around baseball. I ask him about why he has not tried to make the baseball team. He states that the tryouts were a couple weeks before he arrived at our school. I insist “You were not here then.” He then admits “I am not here now.” I fired back with part of a quote I remember Trevor saying in Pay It Forward: “I guess it's hard for people who are so used to things the way they are - even if they're bad - to change. Cause they kind of give up. And when they do, everybody kind of loses.” At that very moment, I have settled into the thought that I have officially become Trevor. I mean, I am quoting his exact words without even thinking. I am Trevor or better yet, Trevor is me.
The bell signaled us to our next class. I arrived at Spanish only to notice a weight on my back has been lifted. My backpack must have departed in the cafeteria. I traced my steps back as I see the empty café with the seemingly cruel lunch lady sitting at one of the tables, cleaning with a look of anguish on her face. She was talking to one of the other lunch ladies and I overheard her talking about money being an issue after her husband left her. I did not hear much from trying to quickly grab my backpack but she says something about not even being able to pay for the new K-Swiss sneakers that her son desperately wants. A thought sprung into my mind and made the clock spring forward two hours for my destination home. Suddenly, the notebook paper I was writing on the day prior fills up with numerous bullet points marked with the title “The Little Things.”
What did I do to change the world? I stand in front of my classmates with their eyes veering at me, especially Abel and Claudio. I begin speaking, “When given this assignment, I have to be honest. I did not think this project would be influential to me whatsoever. But, as the week went on, I learned to be more observant of my surroundings. I sensed when things were wrong when everything seemed right. In the end, I figured it out that in order to change the world, I had to change me.” As I am giving my little speech, I get a flashback of my bullet points on the notebook paper. Lunch today was different. I mean, I still grabbed the same items but passing by the lunch lady, I placed in front of her my pair of K-Swiss sneakers and walked away. My speech continues, “Good things do not come to those that are not aiming to succeed, you have to open your eyes and believe in yourself.” James is now one of those kids running miles and miles around Lyndon C. Nelson field getting his cleats dirtier as they prepare for the big game. I conclude my speech with, “It’s almost as if everyone is scared of a little change. When, in reality, change is the best thing that can happen to anyone. Whether it is a simple hug to comfort a loved one, protecting someone from a group of bullies, helping someone achieve their dreams, or helping a complete stranger who may have not been the most respectful to you. Changing the world starts with changing yourself. We do not need to make one big impact to alter the world’s state. Sometimes, it’s just the little things that make the world go round”.