Monday, August 6, 2012

Bother


The other day, I exited the highway one short and got stuck travelling in the wrong direction. It paid off.
       
I'm unable to judge distance in terms of feet so I'll just say, about eight or ten car lengths in front of me on the off ramp was a small, black SUV-ish vehicle. It swerved a bit and then, from the driver's side floated several papery items into the air - dollar bills. I stopped and got out, scrambling to gather up the bills. The black car slowed and I held up the handful of money.I was convinced the driver saw me, but the car disappeared.

I pulled over and waited.
And waited.
And waited.
A Sheriff's car pulled up and the officer leaned to ask if I was okay. I explained what I was doing and he left.

I began to think about what I was doing.
Then I began to think about what that sheriff would have done if he were not in uniform.
Then I wondered what my friends would do.
Then I wondered what my CEO friends would have done, what with all their chronic hurry.
I did not wonder what my children would have done, but I did wonder how long they'd wait.
So I texted all but the fourth who would have said "don't bother," and each responded, "5-10 minutes."
How much money was involved they asked and I said, "60."
How long had I already waited they asked, and I said, "A half hour."

Right after that my phone went dead. So I went to the police station and left the cash with a very surprised receptionist who couldn't believed I'd turned it in. I left her my cell phone number.

I wasn't surprised that she was surprised. It is unusual for someone to do that even though it necessarily means that it is more usual to drive through the airborne bills, or, pick them up and keep them.

But I have twenty-something children.

Sixty dollars fills my son's gas tank so that he can make it to work each day. Sixty dollars buys groceries or pays the electric for my daughters who are making their independent lives work. When I was eighteen, sixty dollars a week was about what I was paid to work in a stationery store for a middle-aged bully who said things like, "I'll bet you think you're just beautiful, don't you?"

Sixty dollars is a lot of money.

I came home and told all of this to my fourth child who was touchingly, very proud of me. I asked - I really wanted to know - if he thought the driver of the black car would go in search of his/her cash.
"No," he said.
"Cynic," I said.
"No, I'll explain," he offered. "The guy sees his money fly out the window. He says, 'Well that sucks. Sixty bucks. Damn.' If he saw you and didn't come back, he figured you'd kept it. If he didn't see you and didn't come back, why would he bother with the police station?"

Why would I, then? Why would anyone?

At around 9:00 that night, I picked up a voicemail from a tearful woman who had called to thank me for turning in her sixty dollars.  She'd spent an afternoon picking up and dropping off tired, hot, cranky kids and wanted to take them for ice cream. She stopped at the bank and in her haste, rested the envelope on the dash where the wind carried it away.  
"I saw it go flying everywhere," she said in her message. She ended by letting me know they were a young family who didn't have much. Sixty dollars meant a lot.

Why would anyone bother? That's why.

2 comments:

  1. Of course you bothered..let's repeat it together: "You can afford to be generous."

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  2. Ahhh...so true. Passed it on, I think, judging from the reaction of my children. I'm just glad I didn't get clipped on the off ramp while I was "do-gooding."

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