The first thing I want to say is a very big “thank you” to everyone who has been reading and commenting. This journey really has been about me and for me, although I hoped maybe a few of my friends would take it to heart and be inspired to talk more about human connection and money, and maybe give a little bit extra away. I underestimated the power of Facebook (which led to the Oregonian article written by Nikole Hannah-Jones). And maybe, in these hard times, the power of some positive news. It has been moving, humbling and deeply satisfying to hear from people all over the country and as far away as Scotland that the stories have made an impact.
It’s the end of the month and I have thought a LOT about where things go from here. I need to take a breath and let the experiences of the past month settle. I still have lots of questions but I do have a few answers.
I have decided that I like giving this way. I will continue to support the causes I care about through reputable non-profit organizations. But I will go back to the bank next week for a small supply of C-notes and will keep them on hand. I will stay alert for opportunities to make a connection and, sometimes, that will include passing along a gift.
And, I will keep writing. My goal is at least a weekly post through the end of the year, when I will regroup.
After casting about for a plan befitting this momentous “last day”, I decided to head back to the place where it really all began: Fred Meyer (see Day 2: Not a Care in the World). That was the day I let the inner judgments start bubbling up to the surface and the first time I had a conversation with a giftee. I secretly hoped to see the woman from that day and find out how she was doing.
A lot of the store employees were in costume; I especially liked one wearing a clerical collar, long black robe and a gigantic cross around his neck. It was hard to tell the shoppers from the employees. I noticed one woman stocking a display of shoes; she had a grim expression and her regular Fred Meyer duds on.
I wandered around somewhat aimlessly for a while. I went over to check if any of my favorite bottles of wine were on sale. I stood for a long time studying the labels and promotions. There’s a deli and little seating area nearby, and I spotted a store employee sitting by herself. I considered going over to sit down, but she seemed to be pointedly ignoring my gaze. I had a good chuckle with myself imagining the woman thinking “Ooh, look at that lady. All she can think about is WINE. I hope she doesn’t come over here!”
I considered keeping the money as a way of prolonging the month of October indefinitely. I saw a young woman wearing slippers and almost followed her. An elderly woman went slowly and painfully by, leaning into her empty shopping cart. In the next aisle was a mother and young girl dressed convincingly as matching zombies, both their mouths painted into a long scar.
I picked out one small item and headed for the checkout line. At the cash register was the grim young woman I had seen at the shoe display. There were two people in front of me and the line moved quickly. When my turn came I said hi and the woman said flatly, “Did you find everything okay this evening?” “Oh, yeah,” I said, “But it’s only one o’clock! Have you been here for a really long time?” I wasn’t winning her over. “You have an Advantage Card?”
As we finished the transaction I tried a few more times to get the woman to smile, or at least look at me. No luck. There was no one else around, and finally I kind of leaned in and said quietly, “Hey, I’d like to give you something.” She glanced at me suspiciously, silent. I reached into my pocket, pulled out the $100 bill and held it out to her.
“I can’t take that,” she said, grim as ever. “Why not?” I wanted to know. “Store policy. I think.” “It’s not a tip. It’s a gift.” “I can’t take it. But thanks anyway.” She turned and walked away.
It was unsettling. Maybe I really wasn’t meant to part with this last hundred. I set out across the parking lot toward home, the woman’s bad humor weighing on me. On the way I passed the bottle return and then spotted a Salvation Army donation trailer. A couple of cars were parked nearby. The drivers had gotten out of their cars and were handing items to a stocky middle-aged man. A bag of clothes and an old computer monitor disappeared into the dark trailer.
After the cars took off I struck up a conversation with the guy. He told me he’d been working for Salvation Army for about two months, first in the Happy Valley store and now here. He said he came from Cuba nine years ago and had originally lived in Miami and then Georgia. He still has family in Cuba as well as all over the world – he counted off children, sisters and brothers, and said his mom had died not too long ago. He’s all by himself here.
It always amazes me how much of their story people will share with a stranger, and I was grateful for the connection. I told the man that my mom had also died recently and what I was doing to honor her memory.
I handed him the C-note. His eyes flew open, then he kissed the bill and started praying in Spanish. His eyes welled up with tears. He reached out to shake my hand then changed his mind and gave me a big hug. “My name is Carlos. Thank you. You have no idea what this means to me right now.” He said he works three days a week and gets paid $8.50 an hour; it’s really not enough to get by and he was a hundred dollars short on his rent.
Carlos thanked me again and encouraged me to come by sometime and say hello. He works Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. He let me take his picture, but wanted to put his Salvation Army cap on first.
I was a couple of blocks from home, taking in the fact that I had given away the 31st hundred, when a man sitting on a low retaining wall stopped me. He had a tiny dog in his lap. “You know, I just don’t understand people sometimes.” He went on to tell me how a man had come by and started petting his dog. “This is a service dog. Everyone knows you can’t do that. You have to ask permission before you touch a dog!”
He took off the dog’s tiny blanket to show me that she was, indeed, a service dog wearing an official service dog uniform. The passerby had apparently apologized in what felt like a sarcastic manner and then cuffed the guy on the back of the head. It was a deeply offensive gesture.
He said his name was Michael and introduced me to his dog, Baby. “You can pet her if you want. She’s a sweetheart.” Michael told me how his wife had died of ovarian cancer and now the dog is all he has. “I’ve had seven heart attacks in five years. I’m on the street. If she senses something is wrong, she licks my face and then I go to the hospital.” The dog has saved his life on four occasions.
We talked for a while and then Michael looked at me hard. “I had to stop you,” he said, “because I just want to tell you that there is a purpose for everything.” I said goodbye and continued on my way home. I turned back to wave and he said, “Happy Halloween!”
I can still pick up a whiff of Carlos’s cologne on my jacket.