While listening to NPR on the way to work this morning, I heard about an elderly man who recently discovered that he mistakenly left his entire life savings of $13,000 in the pocket of a suit he donated to Goodwill. Sadly, his wife has cancer, and he needs this money to pay for treatment. Of course, Goodwill has engaged in a nationwide effort to look for the missing bills, but since he has no idea when he actually donated the suit, locating it is proving to be a daunting task. They don't know if the suit is in a warehouse of if someone already purchased it; further, they have no idea if the money is still nestled in the pockets, or if it has tumbled into someone else's pocket.
As with any crisis, kind-hearted people offered to contribute money to a fund. Too proud to accept donations though, this man says he doesn't want notoriety or support; he wants what originally belonged to him--the money he forgot to remove--and nothing else.
In a few free moments at lunch, I searched for the story online. There, on quite a few sites, I found comments that sank like a canon ball in the pit of my stomach. People repeatedly said the lesson was "that we shouldn't donate anything," or "that's what he deserves for donating something to those people" or "he'll never have a prayer to see it again."
In the midst of all our political finger pointing, social stratification, and life style marginalization, is that what we've come to? When a man nearing the end of his life only has $13,000 to his name and he still finds space in his heart to donate a suit to those poorer than him, the lesson we are supposed to take is that he shouldn't have done it? Are we supposed to slap him on the wrist and tell him that he deserves to have lost it because he gave it to the pocket-grubbing poor? And why would he have any less of a chance of seeing it again having donated it to those people than he would if it fell into the hands of the rich? It seems to me there have been quite a few white-collar thieves commissioned to time behind bars.
People are people and human nature is human nature regardless of how heavy someone's pocket happens to be. Truthfully, I don't think he would have had any more of a chance getting the money back if he left it on the floor of Tiffany's or if he accidently over-paid a misguided client. While I'm not an expert in statistics, I would venture to say that there are just as many honest poor people as there are honest rich people, and there are just as many dishonest, cold-hearted and greedy poor people as there are dishonest, cold-hearted and greedy rich people--or at least the numbers have to be pretty close. I just wish so badly we could stop lacing our society with the poison of stereotypes, and I wish more people could rise beyond the notion that certain "classes" don't do what's right.
While the media flaunts the trouble threatening our society, I find solace in the fact that most people wake up each day aiming to do what's right--at work, with their family, or in the public at large. While rotten hearts occasionally beat to the surface, there are many more good ones keeping our world alive. I just hope this man's suit caught the eye of one of the good ones, so he can help his wife, and we can watch a stereotype begin to crumble.