It was a day to give away a hundred dollars! A special sparkly kind of day. I love those days (the perfect weather doesn’t hurt either. Nor does having the day off).
We were almost out of milk, and walking to Fred Meyer seemed like a great idea. I’ve given away quite a few hundreds there (here, here, here and here), including this one way at the beginning of this journey.
We go through a lot of milk and needed a gallon. But by the time I finished the rest of my shopping I knew my bags would be so heavy I doubted my ability to make it the three blocks home. I ended up with a pint of milk, which seriously offended my sense of frugality by costing about the same as a half gallon.
As I was leaving the store, I saw something I have never seen before: a one-legged bicyclist. He was headed for the area in front of the store and was going to pass right by me.
“Wow,” I said as he approached. “That’s amazing!” “Yup, it’s front wheel drive,” he answered. “I pedal it with my arms.” I got a look at his prosthetic leg; very high tech looking. “Your leg is pretty fancy, too,” I observed. He shrugged and then gave a little chuckle. “It comes with the bike!”
He maneuvered his bike over to the rack and I stepped closer. “I’m wondering if you can help me out with something,” I said. “How?” He looked entirely skeptical and I felt my determination waver. Even though I’ve done this dozens of times, I was at a loss for what to say. “It’s kind of a pay it forward thing. I’m passing along a gift and I’d like to pass some of it on to you.” My presentation was not convincing.
“No, thanks,” he said. “I don’t want it.” I was taken aback. “Why not?” I asked him. He paused for a second and shook his head. “I just don’t want to get involved in any complicated transactions. No, thank you.”
“Really?” I said. “If I handed you a hundred dollars, you wouldn’t accept it?” “I don’t need it!” he announced. Then he turned away. I watched him pull his bike up to the rack and then get off. It didn’t look easy.
I went back to my groceries, feeling pretty deflated. I sat down on the ledge and contemplated my walk home. It occurred to me to call Elijah and have him come help me carry the stuff, then I realized I had left my phone at home. By now the guy had gotten off his bike and was standing there, collecting himself. He looked exhausted.
He was only a few feet away and before I knew it I found myself standing in front of him. We just stood there for a minute, eye to eye. The dynamic had shifted and we were friends somehow, even though I suspected he still didn’t want what I was selling. “You know,” I said. “I’ve done this a few dozen times and not many people have turned me down flat.”
“Well,” he said. “There’s no such thing as ‘no strings attached’. It doesn’t exist. Believe me; I’ve been there, done that.” “Really,” I promised. “It’s really true.” I was still holding the hundred. He softened further and asked, “Why do you want to give that to me?” I started explaining a little about my mother, the cheapskate in me, the journey I’ve been on.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll take it.” I felt grateful and mildly victorious. I said thank you. He told me his name was Charlie. He glanced around like he was about to move along, then he turned his gaze to me full on.
“Wouldn’t it be better if you actually tried to help people instead of giving this money away? You could be a lot more effective that way.” I told him that I did believe in helping people. And that what I was doing has a lot to do with helping me.
“Hmmm,” he said. “What’s so damaged that it’s gotta cost you a hundred bucks a pop?” I stared at him, hardly believing what he had said. I mumbled something about my mother… the war… the Holocaust… scarcity…
“My parents are survivors, too,” he told me. “From Poland and Russia. But I don’t carry it around with me every day. You gotta let it go.”
I gave him a card and told him about the blog. He let me take his picture. I think maybe we shook hands. As we said goodbye, he said he was going to buy a nice bottle of wine with the money and think of me as he drank it. I said that sounded great.
My bags were really heavy but I did make it home.
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