$3.05

It’s roughly the amount of cash you’ll earn for returning a medium sized bag of cans and bottles.  It’s not an overly heavy bag, nor is it a substantial amount of money.  It’s just a bag sitting in the corner of my garage, nothing on my priority To-Do List, simply another chore I’ll get around to.  It’s just a bit of pocket change for an afternoon pick-me-up coffee or that half gallon of milk I have to grab on my way home. It isn’t enough to feed my family or even myself for a day and I certainly can’t go far on $3.05’s worth of gas.

It’s generally the amount of money my family pays me in misplaced dollar bills as I remove their warm fluffy clothing from the dryer.  They just don’t know it.  $3.05 is a treasure chest of long-lost quarters and dimes swallowed by couch cushions and car seats.  It’s a few teeth’s worth of visits from the Tooth Fairy. It’s an hour’s worth of tween entertainment in the arcade.  It’s enough to delight a teenager at the drive-thru Dollar Menu.

It’s just some pocket change.

Or maybe not.

Maybe $3.05 is something more.

I wonder if $3.05 is enough to fill somebody’s stomach for entire day, filling it unlike many of us could appreciate. Perhaps that large hot coffee isn’t part of an everyday afternoon routine, instead a scarce luxury swallowed with careful consideration.  What if, instead of my heated home, warm car or winter coat, a large hot coffee from Tim Horton’s was actually the warmest part of my day?  What if, instead of automatically driving through, ordering an afternoon coffee out of habit and without much appreciation, I spent an afternoon wishing I could find the means to make a hot Tim Horton’s coffee mine?  What if, instead of spending my morning consumed with checking off errands, lists and to-do’s in the grocery store, at the bank, in the school, on my laptop and at home, I was consumed with anxiety over whether or not I could find transportation to the grocery store and, once there, if I could find an affordable amount of food to even sustain myself for a length of time?

On my morning teenager chauffeur run around 7:45am, I watched an elderly man walk up the street, carrying a very small bag of returnable bottles over his shoulder.  It wasn’t even halfway filled and it wouldn’t have been worth my time.  He wasn’t dressed for the biting chill of a November morning as the dawdling sun hadn’t yet burned off the night.  He was walking quickly.  I made my rounds of Very Important To-Do List errands, one of which included purchasing myself a large, hot coffee and as I drove in to the redemption center parking lot, I noticed the elderly gentleman I had seen earlier was just arriving too, on foot.  My warm, comfortable car carried me around to the redemption window.   It was a quick transaction, as always, and I as stuffed the $3.05 into the coin pocket of my purse I looked into my rear view mirror to see the man walk up to the redemption window.  I carried on an entire conversation with myself involving the unfairness of my life versus his, based entirely on judgments instead of facts, in five seconds.  What did I know about this man?  Who was I to judge his situation based on nothing I could possibly know?  Sometimes we make decisions based on nothing more than intuitive feelings and gut-based reactions.  And as I put my gear shifter into park and opened the car door, he jumped back quickly and apologized, as if he had done something wrong by taking a turn at the window before I had finished my Very Important business.

I walked up to him, took his hand, placed my $3.05 into it, despite him shaking his head and saying “No, Ma’am” squeezed his hand tightly and told him to have a really nice day.

Instead of feeling like I had done something kind for somebody else, I cried quietly on way home.  I knew nothing about this man, his life, why he was unclean, unshaven and returning so few bottles so early in the morning, but something about my suddenly opulent middle class lifestyle felt inequitable compared to what I saw of his and it overwhelmed me with sadness.  I’m writing this “out loud” not because I want to profess my charitableness, but because I’m rather ashamed that I continued my day with a lavishly full load of groceries, a full tank of gas and while wearing another new pair of boots from Marden’s I didn’t actually need.

Luck, diligence, fate, ambition, karma, chance?  What determines our situation and why must the contrast between some be so profound?

Renée Chalou

About Renée Chalou

Renée Chalou lives and raises her family in Presque Isle, where she owns a fitness center, LiveWell United. Her oldest son is in his second year at UMO, her daughter plans to attend UMPI in the spring and her youngest son is an active, happy 11 year old in 6th grade. From her life experiences as a homeschooling parent, blending a family, and transforming herself from an overweight, side-line mother to a competitive athlete mother and fitness leader in her community, she writes about what she knows: living life well even when it's not perfect. She writes about finding and clinging to the good even when it would be easy to focus on the bad, no matter what challenges life brings. Life in Northern Maine is wonderful, full of adventures and sub-zero temperatures. It's not for everybody and nobody claims it's easy. But it's a good life, it's hers and she'd like to share some of it with you.