This classic “what if” scenario hit me a few weeks ago when I was walking down a desolate street and found a wallet near a bus stop. Inside, there were five credit cards, a crisp fifty dollar bill and an ID with a picture of an old Chinese man.
I’d been having one of those rotten days where you’re questioning your life path, doubting your identity and asking ‘why God why aren’t things coming together.’ Career and relationships were issues. And of course, moolah.
Then I saw the wallet on the ground. Maybe I was supposed to stumble upon it. Maybe God wanted me to have fifty dollars.
Or maybe I was just supposed to continue being a Good Samaritan. In the last year, I’ve smiled to every stranger who crosses my path, said hello to my cranky bus driver each morning and lent a hand whenever I saw someone in need. Occasionally, I get things out of it, like the time Mr. Bus Driver waited a full twenty seconds for me to catch up after having just missed his bus. But mostly, it just feels good to be kind.
Anyway, I go home and Google the old Chinese dude to get a phone number. He doesn’t answer my first couple calls. When he finally picks up, he yells at me because his English is lousy and he thinks I’m harassing him. So very slowly I say, “Your wallet…I have…I bring…your house.”
The guy doesn’t live too far away, though getting there is a bit of a hassle. When I arrive, the old man walks toward me as if I’ve just descended from Heaven. He reaches out to take my hand, holds it and won’t let go. Tears are in his eyes. He says, “I can’t believe there are people like you in this world. Who can believe this?” He tells me he’s been living in the US for decades and had pretty much given up on the idea any of us had principles anymore. Then here I am returning his wallet fully stocked. He keeps squeezing my hand, staring at me as if I’m some creature from the Planet of Nice.
The guy gives me twenty bucks, despite my refusals, and says, “I want be your friend. I can no believe you are real.” He asks me to write down my phone number then offers to buy me dinner. He wants to introduce me to his family. I’m standing there for ten long minutes, gently refusing recompense, as this stranger is acting like I’m the second coming of Christ.
And I’m thinking, “What the hell happened that giving back someone’s wallet puts you on par with Mother Theresa?” Shouldn’t it be normal to return things that don’t belong to you? Shouldn’t we always try to do the right thing?
Then I got to thinking about my own life. Maybe God didn’t want me to have fifty bucks. Maybe s/he wanted to send a message to let me know my hard work and commitment to being a decent person, despite the chaos of the world around me, mean something. Maybe my career isn’t where I want it, my relationships aren’t perfect, and money is tighter than a Tokyo subway. But what truly matters are the moments of connection shared between people.
I went home walking on a cloud and looking forward to my dinner date with my new Chinese friend. My body was flooded with goodness and a sense of purpose. Through barely an effort on my part, I saved someone a major headache and restored his faith in humanity. I smiled considering how ironic life could be; my day started with a sense of futility, but ended with a reminder to always go out of your way to give and return kindness.
Y’know what’s even more ironic? I never heard jack squat from the old dude again.