It all began with a tweet.
And it ended with a new friendship, a trip to Boston to honor marathon bombing victims, and the chance to reunite a New England family for the holidays.
James D. can hardly believe the month he’s having.
James, who asked that we not use his last name, is a California police officer and avid runner. He saw a JetBlue “Flying It Forward’’ promotion on his Twitter feed and decided to respond.
The challenge? “If you were given one flight to spread good, where would you go?’’ asked JetBlue. James knew right away where he’d go — to Boston. And he knew why.
Here is his tweet to JetBlue on November 17:
Here’s how the Flying It Forward program works: JetBlue asks folks to send in their proposals for how they’d pay it (or fly it) forward with a free plane ticket. Each recipient gets to choose the next winner, who must hail from the destination they have visited. And the good will goes on.
Jill Pall, an ovarian cancer survivor from New York who was granted a free trip to California to raise awareness for the disease, chose James because she felt an immediate connection based on his profession.
“She actually comes from a big NYPD family,’’ said James.
So James became the seventh recipient of the #FlyingItForward free ticket program and the campaign turned to Boston.
James arrived in Boston December 7 with a mission. He would visit MIT the next day to pay tribute to Sean Collier and present a plaque from his department to the MIT PD in Collier’s honor to “let them know we stand united with them and we support them,’’ said James. The staff then took him on a tour of the campus and to Collier’s memorial. James also reached out to Collier’s mother, whom he spoke to by phone.
“He was just a fantastic guy,’’ said James. “He cared about his community, he cared about his job, and he loved what he did.’’
James also met with Transit Police Officer Dic Donohue, who was wounded during the manhunt for the alleged bombing suspects — thanks to Pall.
“Jill reached out to him and connected us and I’m so grateful for that,’’ said James.
He gave Donohue a “challenge coin,’’ a token police officers give each other to show appreciation.
And, finally, on Tuesday James ran the last leg of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street — in the pouring rain — before flying home.
“We knew we had to do it, we wanted to do it, we were honored to do it,’’ said James, who ran with his police partner who traveled to Boston with him and dreams of one day running the Boston Marathon herself. Another fellow police officer who happened to be in Boston also ran with the duo.
He posted this video to Instagram during his run:
“This entire experience was very emotional for me and just very surreal,’’ said James, who said the Boston Marathon hit him hard both professionally and personally.
“It affected me in two ways — one, as a race participant. It also affected me as a first responder. As a police officer, I know what it’s like to respond or be in a major chaotic incident like that. I feel not just for the victims but also for the first responders,’’ said James, who noted that a good friend and colleague running the marathon that day added another layer of worry to the bombing event for him. His colleague was unharmed.
James is now home in California and feeling grateful about his Boston experience.
“Yeah, I could have gone to Boston on my own and did these things. But I would not have met Jill,’’ said James, who predicted that he and Pall “are going to be friends for a long time.’’
He also couldn’t have paid it forward, reuniting a Boston-area family for the holidays.
James chose Gayle Faber, 58, a speech pathologist from Seekonk, as the eighth recipient of the Flying It Forward program.
She was nominated by her daughter Anna Faber-Hammond, a 24-year-old graphic web designer in Cambridge. Here is what Anna tweeted to JetBlue on November 28:
“I am smiling very wide right now!’’ said Faber two days after finding out she was chosen.
Faber has three children, twin daughters Anna and Kelsey, 24, and son Josh, 30. While Anna lives locally, Kelsey is in school in Grenada and Josh lives in Portland, Oregon, where he went to graduate school and decided to settle.
“We’re rarely together,’’ said Faber. “Oh my gosh, it means the world to me. I don’t remember the last time we were together and family is the most important thing in my life. My children are the most important thing in my life.’’
Faber’s son has lived in Portland for seven years and she said it’s been about five years since she’s been there to visit.
“I missed his thesis, his graduation, everything,’’ said Faber. “Tickets out there are very expensive so I couldn’t afford a ticket.’’
Why did James choose her?
“Two things really hit me,’’ said James. “They wanted to visit their brother in Portland and Portland is my hometown. Not only that but the holidays are about being with the people you care about.’’
Did he feel pressure over whom to choose?
“Yes, it’s a lot of pressure. Only because you have so many people wanting to do so many great things. How do you choose between the different causes and movements? At the end, with everything JetBlue and Jill had done for me, I wanted to pay it forward to Anna and her mom because the holidays are a time to be with family.’’
Now the pressure is on for Faber to pick the next recipient in Portland.
“I’m looking forward to finding someone who connects with me and doing something nice for someone,’’ said Faber, who will travel to Portland December 27 to January 3. “I’m thrilled I get to do this. What a nice life experience.’’
Check out how the campaign began with the following first four locations and stories: