Day 12 of giving away $100 a day. I was on my way to get a haircut this afternoon, heading south on Grand Ave. Traffic was flowing pretty smoothly.  I noticed a car in front of me over in the next lane with “Just Married” written on the rear window. It still looked fresh. I’d been to the bank earlier to pick up some more C-notes and had been thinking about my giveaway all day. It crossed my mind that it would be nice to give the $100 to the newlyweds.

The car – a silver hatchback – pulled ahead, signaled and changed lanes. Looking at the clock, I realized I had a few extra minutes and decided I would follow the car for a few blocks and see what happened. I drove right by my turn and came up behind them. Maybe I could pull up and signal to them to pull over. I rolled my window down in anticipation but they stayed just out of range. I was trying to see who was in the car but couldn’t get a good look. Then I noticed a bumper sticker that said, “If you are against gay marriage, don’t marry a gay person!”

After a few more turns I was starting to wonder if this was really meant to be. Then the car pulled over to the curb and stopped. I whipped in behind them and got out. I ran up to the car and the driver rolled his window down. I could tell he was worried. “Hi!”, I said. “Did you just get married?” “Yes, we did”, he answered, glancing at the young man sitting next to him. “Congratulations! I’d like to give you a wedding present.” I held out the $100 bill and the driver took it, looking dumbfounded. The other guy said, “Oh, no! You couldn’t! That’s too nice! Oh, my god! Why??” He reached over to shake my hand.

They got out of the car, gave me a hug and said I could take their picture. They held up a little banner saying “Just Married”. They wanted to know more about what I was doing and we talked about their plans for the money. Ben said they had gotten married on Sunday and about 100 people had attended. Some of their family in Utah hadn’t been able to make it, so they were saving up for a trip back home in December. They were very grateful.

I got to my appointment right on time. It turned out that my hairdresser had spaced out and left early so I just headed home. It was kind of funny how it all worked out.

There’s too much hate and  intolerance in this world, and not enough devotion and tenderness. I’ll be raising a glass to Bob and Ben tonight.

Bob and Ben

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Every day of October I will give $100 to someone I encounter during the course of my routine. I got the idea after receiving a check as beneficiary of my mother’s retirement fund. A number of people have asked me to explain more why I am doing this and, particularly, how it honors my mother.

My mother, Gina, died in May at age 89. She was born in Berlin to a wealthy Jewish couple who spoke French at home and travelled extensively. As a teenager in the late 1930’s her parents sent her to supposed safety in England, where she moved in with a family of strangers. She spent the war years in London as an enemy alien and joined the British Army’s search and rescue efforts. Because of her small size and athleticism she was teamed with a dog and sent into the rubble of bombed out buildings to locate survivors. Through a series of miracles (the details of which I could never extract from her), my mother was reunited with her parents in New York City in the 1940’s. Although her education was interrupted and she never finished high school, Gina perfected her English by reading Dickens, eventually spoke without a trace of a foreign accent, and became a nationally recognized expert on the education of gifted children.

Despite my mom’s privileged background, years of displacement and trauma resulted in a scarcity mentality that permeated our family’s emotional life and left me with scars of my own. My father was successful in the Ginsberg family gas station business and, later, as a Legal Aid attorney. That didn’t keep my mother from scrimping and saving with single-minded fervor, budgeting a single dollar for meat to feed our family of four, then holding back half of the meal as “leftovers” for the next day. Until I was old enough to recognize my mother’s shortcomings along with the trappings of middle class suburban life, I thought we were dirt poor.

My father had a heart attack and died suddenly when I was 17, a few months before I was to start my freshman year at Barnard College. Believing financial ruin was just around the corner, my mother told me I was on my own; without my dad’s income there was no money to pay for my education. A serious rupture in our relationship developed when she refused to provide information to the financial aid office, jeopardizing my ability to start school. With the help of the college I became emancipated, took out loans and started classes through a work-study program.

My mother remarried, developed a successful career and lived very comfortably. Yet, she remained convinced until she died that her future held peril and financial uncertainty. As for me – practicing many of the frugal habits she taught me, I worked hard and eventually paid off all my student loans. Some sore spots persisted in our relationship although we spoke almost every day and, finally, found genuine sweetness with each other.

I have to admit that my mother would think this a silly exercise, at best. I tried countless times to convince her that she could afford to be generous with herself, her grandchildren and in support of causes she cared about. But she was always puzzled by the notion of giving money away, and would certainly never have handed cash to a stranger. From her perspective, she had earned everything she had and there was no need to share.

So, why am I giving away a month of hundreds? In part, I want to prove to myself that I can do something a little crazy and unexpected and that life will go on (and – possibly – even improve). I want to be more conscious of the people around me and to challenge my notions of worthy-ness. I believe I honor my mother in striving to be my best self.  And I hope to honor and preserve the person she might have become (had history been more kind) by performing random acts of generosity and sweetness in her name.