Pay It Forward – An Origami Story

A dear friend has asked me to explain to her the old tradition of pay-it-forward, a topic I find quite worthy to cover. As many people might already know the practice involves the act of helping a person or group who has fallen victim of discrimination without expecting repayment, suggesting that instead help be made later on to the next person or group suffering hardships. Most recently, the tradition has become a bit more popular with all of us who find ourselves thrown aside by a society who values automation far more than human struggles.

That been said, I must admit that the tradition means quite a lot more to me. For many years now I find it has been a constant source of inspiration, keeping me grounded and mindful, and giving me an opportunity to be grateful for what I have. And being such a fan of origami, I was particularly touched when I came across the story of the first time a forward chain was started with an origami. That particular story has stayed with me over the years, and I am only too happy to share it now just as it was originally told to me. The image of the letter I’ve posted is a copy of the first known reference to an origami forward.

This letter, folded as an origami figure of a ship, was received in 1961 by a bicycle repair man in Alabama. The recipient had met, befriended, fallen in love, and later got secretly engaged, to the daughter of a local store owner. Even though they both knew a biracial marriage was illegal, they still hoped for a future together.

But their secret was found out, and an arrest warrant was issued in his name, at which point very credible death threats were made. The couple was forced to run and hide separately with friends in the countryside. There seemed to be little hope that if he was caught he would make it alive to any sort of trial.

Yet somehow, a midst all odds, this origami letter managed to find him. At the hand of multiple people or just the one, it still isn’t known. But the couple managed to escape to the ship, and went on to live a long life together in Trinidad & Tobago. They were deeply inspired by this anonymous act of kindness and throughout their entire life they consistently helped refugees from multiple wars who arrived to the island, lost, scared, and with nothing to their name but their souls.

The couple offered their unconditional friendship and provided these refugees with an education, food, clothing, and whatever else was required for these people to have hope and an opportunity at a happy life. Because of them, hundreds of descendants from refugees all over the world can proudly claim that they are alive today. Many of whom have also dedicated their lives to helping others. And all thanks to this singular origami forward.

It is still yet known the origin of the letter. Many of the rumors, of course, point to the great mathematician and British fugitive Alan Turing, but no historian so far has managed to find a single solid piece of corroborating evidence. What is undoubtable, however, is that this unsigned letter has become a symbol for those who are committed to the fight against injustice.

I hope you like this story, Abigail, and that you feel inspired by it just as I have been since the time I first came across it.

xoxo, Emily