I can’t be trusted with money.
I’ve always said I would make a good bajillionaire because there’s nothing I’d enjoy more than showering my friends and family with random cross-country trips, cars, homes, extravagant gifts they would never buy for themselves. I love to treat others whenever I can — even if it doesn’t make fiscal sense to do so.
Chris and I work hard at our jobs, but we’ve chosen careers that don’t traditionally produce a great deal of income. (Note to all you aspiring bajillionaires: you’ll probably want to stay away from jobs as writers or teachers. If you’re in it for the soul experience, however, get your writing and teaching ON!) Often times — like so many other families — we have to stretch every last penny to make ends meet. We’re responsible, we’re employed, we just have a lot of kids and a boatload of expenses. And to the dismay of my daughter-of-a-bank-president friend, I’m much more concerned about what I can give away than what I can squirrel away.
If there’s money in our account, I’m buying dinner. If there’s an extra room in our vacation home, you’re going with us… our treat. Nothing makes me happier than opening my hands to give — even when what I can offer might only be a cup of coffee or a movie ticket or a hug. Perhaps that’s because I know what it’s like to be without. We had next to nothing as children in terms of money, things, cars, houses. I distinctly remember re-shelving non-essential items at the grocery store when the grand total on the register exceeded the cash in our pockets. Would I change that? Not in a heartbeat. What I learned as a child was love — love in the form of a mother who worked three jobs to keep us fed and housed and clothed; love in the form of strangers who performed random acts of kindness during some of our darkest and scariest days; love in the form of what it feels like to receive.
Last night, I took my kids out to dinner — a luxury I rarely knew as a child. It still gives me a little thrill to be able to order a steak that doesn’t have to be shared; to think about the possibility of dessert without worrying about the final bill. And trust me — there are times we still have to worry about dessert and the final bill. But we are so blessed by what we do have.
The kids and I were talking about the past two years and the fortitude they’ve shown by adapting to this new place, these new schools, this new lifestyle. We discussed the transition of moving from a very affluent area to one fraught with poverty. The kids talked about classmates who had holes in their shoes and empty bellies when they sat at their desks in the morning. We counted our blessings. We thought about what we could do.
“Gift cards!” Mary Claire suggested. “Let’s get some gift cards and give them away to random strangers!”
And that’s just what we did.
We ran to Subway and bought a handful of $5 gift cards. We drove to Wal-Mart — the busiest place in Starkville. We decided on a meeting place, and I gave them five minutes to find recipients and re-gather. We wanted to “gift and run.”
And they were off.
As a sidebar, I lost my own gift cards somewhere between Subway and Wal-Mart. We searched and scrounged and couldn’t find them anywhere. But that’s okay. I know in my heart that whoever needed to find them, found them.
And here’s what we discovered last night…
Some people are suspicious. Some waited for my kids to follow-up with the fine print, the ask. They were hesitant to accept, quick to be suspect. People have been hurt, people have been swindled, people have lost their faith in humanity.
Can a $5 gift card change that? I don’t know. But we’re going to keep trying.
Others felt undeserving. “Give it to someone else,” we heard more than once.
Mary Claire received a hug from a young college co-ed. It was the highlight of her evening.
“Some of the people I talked to didn’t seem very happy,” George said.
“It’s okay,” I said. “Think about an iceberg. What you experienced tonight was the tip of the iceberg. There’s a giant chunk of ice under the water that you couldn’t see. Later, when they go to Subway to feed themselves, they’ll probably think of you. They’ll smile when they realize your gift was real and didn’t have any attachments. Maybe they’ll be kinder to the sandwich-maker. Maybe they’ll buy a cookie for the person behind them. You have no idea what you might have begun tonight. All you got to see was the tiniest tip of what might possibly happen. How cool is that?”
I’ve not seen my kids so excited or so inspired in a long, long time. They giggled, they laughed, they skipped — Mary Claire even slung her arm around George and told him she loved him as we walked through the parking lot. It was, undoubtedly, a Festivus Miracle.
“Let’s do this again! Soon!” they all begged.
We may never be able to buy houses and cars for our family and friends, but we can do this. We many not be able to change people’s lives, but we can certainly brighten their day.
Little blessings with big love.
This, we can do.
This, we will do.