When Andrew Huskilson asked at the funeral of his 5-year old daughter Carmen that people in his community of Shelburne, Nova Scotia do small favours for each other, pay it forward as a tribute to her, he made kindness go viral.
“I thought it would be a coffee or shovelling the neighbour’s driveway or a gesture,” Andrew Huskilson told a TV reporter. And sure enough, there is lots of coffee buying and shovelling going on. People of the community are arriving home or looking out their windows to see their driveways already plowed or shovelled. One woman reported on Facebook that when the person in the car ahead of her at a drive-through paid for her coffee in the name of Carmen, she did the same for the person behind her. One imagines a whole chain of kindness ringing Shelburne’s Tim Hortons.
It’s all happening partly because of the plea by Carmen’s father and partly because Andrew and his wife Jennie Huskilson asked people to consider giving to the Carmen Faith Memorial Fund they set up at Scotiabank and to the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, which specializes in children’s health and where Carmen received a lot of care. It’s happening too because even in her short five-year life, Carmen made many people happy.
A family photograph shows Carmen consoling her younger brother who is lying on the floor, obviously very upset. She’s hugging him and reassuring him over and over, saying that everything will be okay. She started school just this fall, and it was this part of her personality that apparently made her a favourite among teachers at her Hillcrest Academy.
For Carmen Faith, everything was never okay. She was born with a diaphragmatic hernia that put her in and out of hospital all her life. Still, she lived far longer than anyone expected. At last, pneumonia caught up with her on January 12, 2016, ending her numbered days as a warm-hearted, otherwise normal little girl. “She was a little princess,” Carmen’s mother told a CTV News reporter recently. “She loved to dress up. She loved to play with her dolls. She loved to just be a little girl.”
The extraordinary thing that happened to this otherwise ordinary child has grabbed this small community like nothing else. And her story is spreading, first through social media, then through traditional media. At last count, the Facebook public group started in the community by Lisa Harris is approaching 9000 members and is still growing. That’s more than five times the population of the town. Someone added the hashtag #bekindtooneanother to spread the word even further through Twitter. And spreading it is.
The local Town Council in Shelburne proclaimed that every January 12 will become “Pay It Forward Day” in Carmen’s name and donated $500 to the local child care centre. A gas station elsewhere in Nova Scotia declared a weekly “Pay It Forward Friday” during which they will give out free baked goods and collect donations for the IWK Chidlren’s Hospital in Halifax. Necklaces and stickers were designed and sold through the Facebook page to raise money for the memorial fund. When one woman went to a Staples to print 100 “Pay It Forward” cards, the cashier paid for them herself.
From donated cab fares to restaurant tips, from the local and appropriately named TLC Pharmacy donating all sales on the night after the funeral to the local A1 Pizza shop donating an entire days sales to the fund in Carmen’s name, the people of Shelburne County have been giving and giving of their time, their earnings and their good will.
Because Carmen’s hometown is a fishing community, lobster fishermen challenged each other to match donations of lobster to raise money for the fund in Carmen’s name. An elementary class in Carmen’s own school knitted finger puppets for kids in the IWK where she received so much care. Through this and other activities, the school eventually raised $5000 for the hospital.
“Pay if forward” acts of kindness first reported on the Facebook page, then in traditional media spread the movement to communities across Nova Scotia and to other Canadian provinces—Newfoundland, Ontario, Quebec, Alberta—across the USA, then to England, Australia, even the Dominican Republic and many more locations across the continent and around the world. One person posted from Hawaii that she and friend were hitting the streets with macadamia nut pancakes to hand out to a few homeless people they knew.
Carmen’s story and the “Pay It Forward” movement made the local paper, then the Chronicle Herald, Nova Scotia’s daily newspaper. The story hit the regional television and radio news broadcasts. Then bigger media outlets like The National Post and the Toronto Star picked it up. From there, the story of Carmen’s inspiration to kindness popped up in newspapers and other news sources in towns and cities across Canada.
“My heart is broken but exploding with joy at the same time,” wrote Jennie Huskilson as these reports of kindness in her community and so far beyond rolled into the Facebook page.
Perhaps this story went viral because every parent imagines the worst—losing a child, especially a young child and especially when it’s nobody’s fault. This isn’t a story about an unfair accident or cruelty. It’s a story about simple, inexplicable bad luck—a child born with a serious medical condition that in the end no one can do much about, a child who proves to be, even by the age of five, a kind, empathic little girl who doesn’t deserve such an affliction, but was burdened with it nonetheless. And it’s the story of loving parents who treasured every moment with their daughter. As Jennie Huskilson put it to that TV reporter, “Everyone that was involved in Carmen’s healthcare, we want to say thank you. We know you gave us our little girl,” said Jennie to the TV reporter.
What it is that attracts people to this story, whatever the individual and collective motivations to not just express their sympathy, but to actually get up from the computer and go do an act of kindness as a result, it’s a powerful thing. It’s shifting perspectives, raising awareness, changing values. It has changed a town in Nova Scotia, and it could change more places like it. As one person posting on the Facebook page put it, “In the end, only kindness matters.”
Photo of Carmen – From Paying it forward, In memory of Carmen Faith Huskilson Facebook Group