Character for $1300

CC BY-NC, athrasher, Flickr

The snow was a good thing that Thursday morning for a few reasons. I was still getting over a nuisance head cold. Work and customers had been rough all week. I was also in a slump, experiencing one of my moments of frustration with my own failures. So when about two-and-a-half inches of that blessed white freeze surprised everyone and blanketed the region the previous night, I knew then that work was going to have to wait in the morning.

I must have been excited because I couldn’t sleep through the night. I got up constantly: 11:15—1:18—4:35—6:20, until it was finally time to get up at 6:55. I had been calling the weather hotline to see if the facility would be closed, but I didn’t expect concrete answers until I would, more than likely, make the 20-minute drive there only to be told, “Um, they’re closed.”

So I decided I’d leave a message not to expect me and, then, maybe to expect me when the streets cleared. Alas, I thought of those whiny women who nagged the heck out of me about their $800 strollers and car seats that were not the right color or some other ridiculousness that was but an illustration of how money made them think they were better than anyone else—and I made a change of decision decision: There’s a first time for everything, including missing an only day of work in eight months. It could wait.

Hello…It’s God.”

By 10:30, however, the streets were nothing more than wet, sand-gritted, brine-throwers. I could take care of some errands that I was unable to handle otherwise due to business hours, and then I’d go to work. Moreover, I discovered that my IRS return, which was abnormally large this year, in addition to my work check, had been deposited. I could get to slashing away at my debt in a plan I had created days earlier.

I was excited to get started. Slash! Slash! Slash! and SLASH! It was the biggest day in my recent financial history since a year earlier when I foolishly terminated a job and delivered myself straight to financial hell. A sizeable chunk of debt was now relieved, and the remaining portion of my money would be used to start a much-needed emergency savings fund.

So when I paid the final bill of the morning, I headed out of the building and heard these words sounding from behind me: “Sir, do you believe in helping people?” Before I had the chance to become annoyed by whoever this was, in my heart I recognized a familiar, jabbing, divine, shoulder tap. (Really. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this was God and it was a test.)

I turned to see who it was: a less fortunate woman, fairly attractive with bad teeth, wearing a red jacket. She was probably in her mid-fifties by the gray hair. “Yes,” I said. Well I do believe in helping others, said the stuffy part of me that was eerily similar to those ladies who called me each day. She went on: “I need something to eat. I haven’t had anything all day. I’ll go with you if you want me to. I have diabetes and I’m getting weak.” She must have known I wasn’t about to fork over any cash.

Passing the Test

So she got in the car and I asked her name. I still don’t remember it. I asked where she lived; I knew the place. Then we decided on KFC just down the street, a place I figure she frequents often because she walked in greeting the little old cashiers by name as they eyed this newbie (or maybe catch of the day.)

She got what she wanted and I paid: $6.55. Then I patted her arm and told her to take care. She looked at me and thanked me, then smiled what little dental glory she possessed. But right in front of everybody, she grabbed me and hugged my neck. There was a different energy emanating from her. What I had done suffused her with a happiness I didn’t see coming.

I left there stunned and so dazed that I had to get to my favored meditation spot in a nearby park. Here was the first time a beggar truly needed from me, and my charity passed the test.

Who doesn’t know what it feels like to really want to help people but to also feel afraid because to do so is to potentially become the victim? We wrestle ourselves over having the right balance of caution and throwing that caution to the wind over right causes. We do it because the days have grown evil and because the matters of life, as Maslow’s chart so lucidly conveys, all too often become the contingencies for death.

I was proud that I had sensed the divine glare watching and waiting for me to do the right thing, to see if what I was worth that day—my debt relief—was really worth anything to anyone else, for just maybe much more money and relief are ahead of me to help someone else.

I remain gratified to understand that the questions are always more important than the answers because they embody all the motive and quality any answer or action could produce. The questions lead the dance.

So later that day when I got out to go into Piggly Wiggly grocery store and this very frail old man with an empty basket, having just loaded his car, saw me coming, I knew it was another opportunity presenting itself. And, yes, another question: “Young man, are you going inside?” Sir, I’m just going places.

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