It was a beautiful morning…
I’d stumbled out of a friends apartment, walking slowly toward the corner, when a young couple aproached me on the street. They were well dressed and about my age. And, that was no accident.
The man began to share his story.
“Excuse me,” he said, “this is so awkward. But we were with friends until late last night and, after they already headed home to Connecticut, we found out our car was towed. My wallet was actually in the car and the lot is across town. I know you don’t know us, but, well, is there any way you might consider lending us $20, so that we could go pick up our car. I’ll write down our address and telephone number and take yours and, as soon as we get home to Connecticut today, we’ll mail you back a check for $20.”
It was early, and they seemed genuine enough, so I said, “sure, no problem,” and handed over a 20.
They thanked me and made like they were walking to the corner at the other end of the block to grab a cab.
I felt great about helping out perfect strangers.
A bit later, I shared the morning’s events with a friend, who’s response was…
“Dude, you’re an idiot.
You just got conned out of $20.”
“No way,” I said, “these people seemed really nice.” But, I wondered if he was right. So, after hanging up with him, I picked up the phone and dialed the number they’d given me.
It was fake. I looked up the address they’d shared. That was fake, too.
I was fuming.
Partly at them, for making me feel like a fool. And partly at myself, for falling for the con. I was a NYer, I am supposed to be immune to this type of thing. How could I fall for something so blatant? Why didn’t I call the number on the paper from my cell phone, BEFORE handing over the money?
Getting burned stayed with me for some time. I wouldn’t look at people approaching on the street (though, that’s the rule in NYC, anyway). I stopped giving change to homeless people holding out cups. I wouldn’t even share directions when asked on the street. And, I felt really bad about it. So, after some time passed, I made a decision.
I’d rather believe in the innate goodness of people and occasionally get taken, than believe in the pervasive badness of people and spend my days scrambling to keep what I have.
Time passed and I found myself in another situation with an opportunity to give. But, this time the potential “con-artist” was a young kid, maybe 8 years old, dressed in a blazer, selling chocolate on the steps of the local post office. I didn’t know if it was really to support his school, or if he was just scamming me. But, I decided…it really didn’t matter.
And, what unfolded moments later was pure magic.
I shared this story on this blog just about a a year ago in my first real post, called “A kid, A Tie And a Chocolate Smile.” Here’s the short version:
As I looked up at this young man, he smiled insecurely. Feeling like my karma needed a bit of zip and wanting to do something nice, I offered a dollar for a bar and a thank you. I was feeling pretty good about my deed and began to make my way down the short flight of stairs and through the glass doors ahead.
It only takes a moment to change a day.
As I approached, I noticed an older gentleman, gray hair and glasses, leaning on a cane and smiling at me. I thought this odd. People don’t make eye contact on the street in Manhattan, even old people. But, he looked so kind, I could not resist smiling back.
As I began to move toward him, thinking that would be the end of it, his smile widened to a grin and he began to gently raise his hand, pointing to the young man inside on the steps. “That’s my grandson,” he said, “thank you.” He stood positively glowing with pride at his grandson’s success. I nearly cried. Karma repaid so instantly. So small an act, so great an impact upon both giver and receiver in so short a period of time. In a smile, my day was transformed.
So, I’m curious, what’s your take?
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