From the Editor

“Paying Forward” Earns Priceless Dividends

By Lori Hutzler Eckert, Editor

Have you ever had one of those days when an unforeseen event changes you? I’m talking about a day when you are going about your business, and you receive a phone call delivering happy news, or you find yourself in the right place at the right time.

These pivotal moments, which come without warning, can alter our thinking momentarily or change us to the core.

Last Valentine’s Day presented one of those times for me. Although Feb. 14 brings with it thoughts of flowers and candy – and perhaps a little jewelry, if we are talking about me – I was bogged down in the day-to-day minutiae of life, with time for little else. Richard, my husband, made reservations at Café Provence in Miramar Beach, knowing the promise of fine French food generally is a cause célèbre for me. However, my mind was spinning with the ever-present weight of laundry to be washed, calls to be made and work deadlines to be met.

During dinner, Richard, a Realtor, and I talked about work events of the day. (For those of you in the unpredictable field of real estate in Northwest Florida, you know what that conversation was like.) And although the food was exceptional, there was an increasing tightening in my chest over things undone.

And that’s when it happened.

Our server approached our table and announced that there would be no charge for our meal. After Richard and I peppered her with countless questions beginning with “What?” “How?” and “Why?” she had a simple explanation.

A couple dining in the restaurant set out that night to treat another table to dinner. A selfless act of kindness. An anonymous gift. The couple’s intention, she added, was that we would be inspired to pass on this gesture of pure kindness to others.

Yes, it was a free meal given to able people. But it was so much more for us. Stunned, pleased and a bit confused, we couldn’t stop talking about what had just transpired.

We walked out of the restaurant as slightly different, better people than we were before. All the way home, we called friends and family to eagerly tell them of our experience. And finally our conversation turned to “paying forward” this good deed.

We spent hours deciding how we could make a difference in someone else’s day. We decided to select more than one person on more than one day. We often went out of our home with new eyes and ears, searching for opportunities to share.

I suppose that over the past year, the couple who paid for our Valentine’s Day meal hasn’t given that night much thought; however, we have considered it countless times and the effect that their gesture had on us.

To share with others may not be innate to us. It doesn’t perpetuate the survivalist’s instinct, but it certainly makes life better – in ways both tangible and intangible.

Of course, making change for the common good can be accomplished in many ways, as you will see in this issue of Emerald Coast Magazine. We selected 10 people who exemplify such ideals on a community-wide level. This distinguished group of business leaders – all under the age of 40, by the way – is committed to creating a successful future for the Emerald Coast.

An artist, an event planner, a restaurant operator, a chef and business owners, among others, all are part of Emerald Coast’s “The New Establishment 2008.” In exclusive question-and-answer sessions, these movers and shakers candidly discuss their roles in the growth of the area; challenges and solutions that we, as a community, face; and why they have chosen to build their lives and careers along the Emerald Coast.

While these young men and women may not be your “typical” leaders, they are catalysts whose actions encourage other members of our community to do more and be more. Their approaches are fresh and creative, and they’re working to shape our culture and drive our economy in ways that some may find surprising.

But as Richard and I learned last Valentine’s Day, it is the pleasantly unexpected that holds the most promise and inspires the best change.