Friday, December 06, 2013
The Gift of Twelve Cents
On May 29, 2009, I posted this item: http://johnonefive.blogspot.com/2009/05/gift-of-penny.html It tells the story of how a stranger gave me a penny when I was about six years old, and how his gift changed my life. It also tells how, about fifty years later, I had the opportunity to give someone else a penny in almost the same circumstances, but the opportunity was thwarted when the cashier said to the girl who was a penny short, “Oh, forget it.”
A little farther along in that post are these words: “A penny in 1954 is worth twelve or thirteen cents in today’s money, I suppose.” So it was easy to understand why a penny would count for something in 1954, but would be shrugged off in 2006 or whatever year it was.
Last night I was able to come full circle at last. I was at a supermarket checkout, and the person in front of me was twelve cents short. She asked the cashier if they could just forget the twelve cents. “Sorry, I can’t do that,” she said kindly.
I lit up. “I’ll pay it!” I exclaimed. “Someone gave me a penny a very long time ago and I’ve been waiting for a chance to pay it back! It’d be about twelve cents today!”
I don’t think either of them heard my explanation, but if either did, neither responded. I excitedly withdrew a handful of coins from my pocket, extracted a dime and two pennies, and handed them to the cashier.
“Well, you don’t see that very often,” she remarked. The other person’s purchase was completed, she turned to me with a casual “thanks”, took her four plastic bags in hand, and headed for the door. And that was it.
As I wrote in 2009, “I wanted to give where I had been given to—not to make things equal or release some kind of moral debt, but to return a favor—to treat another as I had been treated. If I had been able to get a penny out of my pocket in time [back in the missed opportunity in 2006], would it have changed the girl’s life as my life had been changed? Not very likely. Had I pushed a penny across the counter for her, I would have felt that I had gone ‘full circle’ and become like the man who had blessed me so mightily and so unknowingly when I was a little boy. I would have felt deeply connected to him and been doubly blessed by his gift.”
Did my gift of twelve cents change someone’s life? Probably not—but who knows? I’ll never know. Just as the man in 1954 never knew how he’d changed my life, or how his gift to a small boy when Dwight Eisenhower was President would inspire a gift to a middle-aged woman fifty-nine years later.
I have no doubt that we are utterly unaware of the overwhelming number of connections we have across space and time with all kinds of people—how we affect other people for good, and how they affect us. It is uplifting when one of those connections becomes visible.