It’s 2:27 pm. I’m drinking my very best single malt, a Surfer’s sundown dram, #53.154, aged 17 years and one of only 462 bottles. Why am I drinking this malt in the afternoon? Why am I drinking at all?
My life is in flux right now. Income left me, and not on my terms. I’ve been out of work for months and I tapped retirement funds a year and a half early. This doesn’t mean I won’t take another project if one comes along. But it’s unlikely, and my first pension check made me feel old and financially vulnerable.
Now over the years I’ve attended enough self-help lectures to claim Guruhood myself. I know the think-and-grow-rich edict; assume money will never run out, BELIEVE in ABUNDANCE, that the Universe listens, that you only get what you expect, so expect GOOD things!
Don’t get me wrong. I think a positive attitude can make your world a sunny place, for people who believe it does. I want to believe it does too. I want to believe in belief, and have from time to time. Once I kept score about those times that I didn’t believe, spent the money anyway and did NOT fall off a cliff. I think safety stayed in place ‘cause residual TRUST was hiding in my heart.
So you’d think that after all these years, I would’ve acquired the faith to unquestionably BELIVE it’s all gonna work out, that the money will come for food and gas and those $400 Bose computer speakers I want. My eight year-old Harman/Kardon’s finally cracked.
And you’d think I would have memorized the saintly rules too; that by giving to charity and people begging in the street, abundance flows back to you. Give and you shall receive…or something like that.
On certain days, like today, I believe it, sort of. At least I give it the benefit of the doubt, because at Smart & Final, I have to. Everyday local folk set up their donation table outside the exit door, like the photo I provided here. As you stroll past them with your loaded cart, they ask you to help another soul stay alive.
Most shoppers avoid eye contact, pretending they didn’t hear the ex-battered women or recovered addict explain that the money he’s collecting is for those less fortunate. And whether you contribute or not, as you leave that space, he’ll bless you on behalf of the Most Powerful Force in the Universe.
I’m not thrilled about Smart & Final blessings, but when all you need are paper towels, tissues, distilled water and a bag of chips, you risk meeting the worthy-cause people with their pictures and signs and box where the money goes.
So as I was saying, this day I was feeling somewhat optimistic and approaching the store, I saw what would be waiting for me at the exit – a bearded white guy my age with a money box for some noble cause.
And as I’m checking out, as I always do in Smart & Final, I’m asking myself if I’m in a giving mood. Do I feel needy or abundantly confident? And if survival looks promising, how much will I give?
You know, if you stick a bill into their box really fast, and hide it with your fingers as you push it into the slot, they won’t be able to tell if you gave a buck or five or ten.
Does anybody give ten? And if they do, does it really go to orphans, or to the people making us feel guilty with their pictures of a wretched world?
I hate being manipulated. I hate being pressured about anything, which is why I’m really bad at sales. The Golden Rule kicks in. And now the man at the exit with his short gray beard is talking about homeless people and how a dollar would help a poor soul from going hungry. I’m not listening, ‘cause as my eyes shift away, I’m thinking this sure feels like a guilt trip and I role my cart towards my car.
But then, lifting the hatch, I look back. Other people are ignoring him too. I know that’s his job, to get ignored until someone finally gives, but still, this makes me feel sad because he looks like he’s taking care of himself, like he got his life back together and is making a difference in some small way.
But wait. Suppose this is a scam, like those young men who knock on your front door and explain they’re working their way through med school by selling magazine subscriptions.
And then I think, scam or not, sometimes ya gotta take a chance. He was probably homeless once and somebody like me helped him get whole again. What’s a few dollars? I’m not THAT desperate.
So I look into my wallet. All I have is two tens. I pay everything with one credit card so I can rack up free airline miles and visit Mom.
Just two tens. Will he give change? Too embarrassing. I know! I’ll scoot back into Smart & Final and buy a candy bar. Nah. I hate candy bars. But the bananas are on sale.
WHAT AM I THINKING!
How can I be so cheap? What does ten dollars buy anymore? (Plenty. I don’t answer that.) Still, last night was sushi night and I blew away twenty-three bucks for 45 minutes of raw fish which departed this morning in my bathroom. I can afford to feed a poor soul, assuming the ten stays out of the pockets of that man at the table.
So I return my cart to it’s home and I walk over to the feed-the-homeless guy. And to show him how generous I am, I extend the folded ten spot instead of pushing it into the box slot.
And he says to me, in eloquent diction, “Thank you for taking the time to return here and support our cause.”
Wow! Revelation! This guy was never homeless. His clean and manicured nails, sporty jacket, new baseball cap, designer glasses, and especially his vibe tells me he’s from my world, and probably drives that shiny red Escalade over there.
I answer with a throw-away, “Of course.”
And he says, without looking at my bill in his hand, “Would you like a receipt for tax deductions?”
I shake my head, no, thinking, Why? So I can feel even more shitty about doubting you?
Honestly, this man felt like Jesus; kind, generous and all-knowing. There was something about his confident tone, his sincere appreciation of my trying to do the right thing, that subtly conveyed he was a better man than me. And without a “God bless you.”
Then, with a smile he let me go. My lesson was over and he turned his attention to a stout Black lady who was about to accept his grace.
I floated back to my car gleefully uplifted. Everything felt right! And when I got home I played my drums, called two friends, opened my best single malt and wrote this story.
What’s the message?
Next time you approach a card table in a parking lot, stop and listen to the person asking for help. Your donation just might not be a donation at all, but the gift of joy coming back to you.
This post was originally posted on Curiosityquills.com.