So, here is the order of events: I stopped at the ATM yesterday to have some cash on hand to tip my massage therapist. Because the ATM only spews out twenties, and because I don’t want to set a $20 tip precedent with the aforementioned therapist, I stopped at a convenience store to get a Coke and thus break a twenty.
In front of the convenience store was a man in fatigues sitting at a table collecting money for The Wounded Warrior Project. Now, I’m all for taking care of returning veterans. I think we should provide medical care and housing assistance and education and just about any need for those who are willing to put their lives on the line for the pittance we pay them to do that. But, I have a natural resistance to people asking for money at the entrance to stores. It’s such a deeply seated antipathy for me that I’m not even fond of the Girl Scouts when they do that. Yeah, I know. I’m a jerk.
Getting accosted as I’m entering or leaving a store is just something I don’t like. It’s bad enough that the WalMart greeters make me feel like a criminal when they eye my cart as I’m leaving the store. Having my social conscience mauled by the cause of the week takes me over the edge.
Don’t get me wrong. I am generally a quite generous person. Even if I’m irritated by the spoken or even silent request, I usually give something. The non-politically-charged issues are easiest. Children raising money for new Little League uniforms? Absolutely. Salvation Army bell ringers during the holidays? Hmmm . . . no, I almost never give to religious organizations as most of them have judgments I find unspiritual. Homeless person on the side of the road? Sure, most of the time, if I have some cash on hand.
Two bucks. That’s my standard. If someone needs it, and I feel good about giving it, then I’ll pull out two bucks and wish them well.
When I entered the convenience store, I only had twenties, of course. I nodded at the gentleman and mumbled something about needing to get change. By the time I got my Coke and paid, I had actually forgotten all about his presence, so I was taken a bit off guard when I saw him again. I almost walked past, but then I stopped and turned around and reached for my wallet. As I fumbled for two bucks, I had a nice little chat with the gentleman. He told me about Wounded Warriors and mentioned some of the celebrities involved. He said that Bill O’Reilly talks about it all the time. I said that I didn’t care for Bill O’Reilly, but I would give some anyway and smiled. He backed away from the statement and claimed he didn’t actually watch Bill O’Reilly, but he had just heard that. I put my money in the jar and wished him well.
I had a few minutes to kill before my massage was to begin, so I stopped in the bookstore. I had taken $40 out of the ATM, so had the cash available when I found yet another book I just couldn’t live without and probably wouldn’t actually read. I opened my wallet to pay for the book. There were a few ones and the ten for my massage tip. I riffled through the bills for a few seconds and then it dawned on me. I had mistakenly put a one and a twenty into the donation jar for the Wounded Warriors.
For a brief moment, I had that sinking feeling you get when you don’t have money you thought you had. I went through a brief analysis of how to retrieve the money and reached a conclusion within about 2.3 seconds that it was simply gone. I had donated $21 to the Wounded Warrior Project in spite of myself.
As I laid on the massage table a bit later, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that I actually had two legs which could be rubbed and manipulated and pounded into relaxed muscular submission. And two arms. And a fully functioning body, even as much as I took it for granted. I thought about those returning wounded veterans, many of whom could probably benefit from a therapeutic massage, and all of whom gave a precious part of themselves in service to our nation.
As I lay on the massage table, I fully released my internal grip on that twenty. By the time Kevin patted my shoulder and said, “We’re done; I’ll be waiting for you outside,” my only regret was that I hadn’t given the twenty deliberately.
I left the ten in the tip envelope for Kevin, scheduled my next massage, and walked out into a bright, breezy day with a relaxed body, an empty wallet, and a full heart. As non-religious as I am, I couldn’t help but think of the words of St. Francis of Assisi: “It is in giving that we receive.” It is how we become instruments of peace in a warring world.