Saturday, 29 September 2012

The small miracle of ten dollars

Have you ever had a branding moment?

Something so catastrophic happens that it marks you for the rest of your life. You remember what you were wearing and the smells and sounds, and especially how you felt when it happened. Thinking about it makes those same emotions spring to life, and you are suddenly right there, in the moment.

For me, it was in the subway.

Several years ago, I often didn't carry much money in my wallet. The bottom line was, I didn't have much money, and often didn't have cash. It was never a crisis, because my credit card and my bank card carried me through most situations.

Except one.

At that time, you could only use cash or tokens to get on the subway at Kipling station, which is the west end of the line. I would get off the train (for which I had a monthly pass) and board the subway every day at Kipling. On this day, I was on the train when I realized the change in my wallet wasn't enough to board the subway. A frantic search in the depths of my purse (had any change fallen down there?) and my wallet (was there a token stuck in the lining?) revealed my worst fear. I didn't have enough money.

When I got off the train, I tried to use my bank card with the ticket seller to get cash back, but that wasn't possible. There were ticket machines in the subway, but you needed cash for them. I couldn't turn around and go home (as my heart longed to do) because there would be no westbound trains until evening. With growing horror, I realized my only recourse.

I would have to beg.

I approached a woman going through the turnstile. I held out the change I had, and began to explain my predicament, but the shame of the situation rose in my throat and squeezed out the words. Tears spilled down my face unbidden, and my cheeks flamed with embarrassment. She must have understood, because she reached into her pocket and found the change I needed. I grabbed it like a crust of bread to a starving person, and rushed onto the train. It took several stops for me to cease shaking and crying. From that day several years ago, I never leave the house without checking my wallet for change.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I was on the subway, when a young man stepped forward. He looked to be in his early twenties, clean cut but a little ragged around the edges. I didn't notice him until he started to speak.

"So, I've had a run of bad luck, and I'm just trying to get home. I need to get to Union Station, and then take the train to my town. I don't have enough money to buy the ticket, and I wonder if anyone would help me. I still need $30, and I'd appreciate anything you could give me."

Immediately, I was back at Kipling, frantically searching in pockets and linings for enough change to get to work. The powerful emotions of those moments washed over me, but this time, I was able to be the beneficiary. A ten dollar bill sat in my wallet, and with a quick prayer, I gave it to him. He looked surprised at the denomination of the bill, and then melted into the seat, as if trying to disappear.

I don't know if he was legitimate. My gut feeling is that he was, but there are ways in which it doesn't matter. I think I was handing the money to that horrified woman at Kipling station, and reminding her that even in the most out-of-control situations, God is in control.

A lesson she is still learning. Daily.

What "branding" situation have you been in? What have you learned from it?


  1. I was in a car accident...because I was daydreaming. It taught me to pay attention in life. I've never forgotten admitting to the officer and to the car owner that it was my fault.

    Guilt is an amazing thing.

  2. Thanks for your comment, David. I could relate--a second branding incident for me was a car accident I caused because I fell asleep at the wheel. No one was hurt (it was in stop and go traffic) but I wasn't able to drive for two years because of the raise in my insurance rates, and yes, the guilt was overwhelming. I am wide awake and alert whenever I drive now!

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