Wednesday, March 09, 2005

A Twenty's Travels

Two months ago, I picked up a 20-dollar bill at a Timberwolves game. Every day since then, I've carried that same bill folded in my pocket, ready to dispense it to some worthy, and presumably grateful, recipient.

On days I was short of cash, I resisted spending it. It would be cheating somehow to replace it later with a different twenty.

The longer I carried it, the harder it was to give away. I resisted forming foundation-like criteria for giving, thinking that my heart would tell me when and where. But often, my head got in the way.

Is this really enough money to make any difference to any one?

How is my ego playing in this?

Who am I to judge who's in need or what's a proper use for the money?

Would it be it cheating to go out of my way to drop it off at the door of a non-profit I already support?

Should it go to someone destitute or someone working at a low-paying job?

Someone elderly or someone putting themselves through school?

Someone I'll see again, so I can reap recurring gratitude? Or someone I'm guaranteed never to see again?

And so on.

There were candidates who came close. A young man working the grocery pickup on a cold day. He just had the look of someone who had picked this path over a more crooked one. A geeky girl working at the movie theater. She was there often, and I began to paint a sympathetic picture of why she worked nights. She was saving money for college, not to pay her cell phone bill. But the night I arrived ready to bestow my largesse, she was on the cleanup crew, not taking tickets. A cashier was beyond friendly and helpful, and again I constructed an epic miniseries of pluck overcoming bad circumstances, helped along in a small way by a stranger's acknowledgement of her value. But there were always other customers around and I didn't want to embarrass her. Or myself.

Today, I took a different route to the elevators. Walked into the office of a job training organization in my building. Made up a small tale about finding the money on my way in. Said save it for someone who's in a bad spot, who needs it more than than I do. Can you take it? The man behind the counter deferred to the woman behind the counter. I don't think he wanted people walking in off the street and passing him twenties.

They took it. I hope they won't take as long as I did to pass it on.

I've found another 20. It's moving from my wallet to the front pocket, folded in quarters like the other. Not to give away this time, but to remind me. To watch out for other people on the street. To not go through this life unconsciously. It's not about giving away the money. It's about seeing others, for starters. I see you.

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