For 14 years now I’ve been obsessed with a single thought. It’s a question really. A question I’ve asked a million times. And it took flying all the way to Africa to even realize it was bothering me. The question is – Why is a charitable donation so disengaging? There are other words I could
Day 30 and 31 were by far the best two encounters to date. (If you don’t know what the Givesome #tooniegiveaway is check out my earlier blog here ) Day 30 I was a few hours from home hanging out with some friends at a place we call ‘the rapids’. I put a toonie in my bathing suit pocket before heading to the water and kept an eye out for who I could give it to. And then I saw her. She was an older woman in a bikini with a smile on the rocks near the water. I walked over and said hello. She seemed a little thrown off that a stranger had just approached and greeted her, but she continued smiling. I pulled out the toonie and said that I’d like to give this to you. Her hand went up with somewhat of a ‘no’ gesture, but I kept going and went on to explain what this was about. I told her that I’ve been giving one of these to someone different every day for about a month now and that I’d like to give it to her.
She stared at me like I was crazy, and I could tell this wasn’t going to be an easy sell.
So I explained a bit more around the reason why I’m doing this – to meet new people, learn what it’s like to always be looking for someone to give to and to get people thinking about giving if only in small doses.
She remained pleasant but wasn’t buying what I was selling… until I mentioned that she could take this toonie and give it away herself. That she didn’t have to keep it. As soon as the thought was planted she reached for it and said that she would do just that. Then everything seemed to change. She called for her husband (sunbathing nearby in shallow water) and told him, in a voice loud enough for everyone in the vicinity to hear, that this pleasant young man had just given her this toonie for no reason and suggested that she give it away. He looked at me and then said that’s a good idea – she should give it to him! They both chuckled and we chatted for a minute or so and then I wished her luck in finding the right person to give it to and walked away.
These were another two people I would not have otherwise met or engaged with. Another few smiles and another bit of learning for me. This is going to be less about the toonie and more about the people I meet along the way.
The next day I was back home and outside watering my front lawn. It was evening and I had not yet given away my toonie. And then I waved across the street at an old man with a long white beard that I have been waving too for a couple of years now. Every evening at around the same time he comes out and walks a few laps around the park across the street. We’ve always smiled and been friendly but neither of us had ever taken the time to introduce ourselves to each other. So on his next lap I dropped the hose, crossed the street and waited for him to approach. About 3 seconds into my greeting I realized this was not going to be easy. He didn’t speak a word of English. We shook hands and were friendly but try telling someone about your toonie challenge when they can’t understand a word you’re saying – it doesn’t work. I quickly reverted to bit of sign language and charades but with no luck. So I pointed at me, then pointed at the toonie, then pointed at him and extended my hand. And he wouldn’t take it. He just shook his head no and each time I offered he refused. So I shook his hand again, patted his shoulder, and said good bye. My first (of many, I’m sure) full refusal of a toonie. So I crossed the street back to my yard and continued watering.
About 10 minutes later I look up and see the same old man and another younger man walking down the street towards me. My first thought was that I had offended the man and was somehow in trouble. But as they approached I could see he was smiling. The younger man, also a stranger, explained that he was the old man’s neighbour and that the old man had knocked on his door and asked if he would come down and interpret for him. As the old man spoke he began to explain that he was sorry for not understanding what I was trying to do earlier. He asked why I was offering to give him money. So through the interpreter I explained what I was up to with the two dollars. I mentioned that Givesome does the same – gives people the chance to give two bucks to others in an effort to provide for basic needs and show us that we don’t need a lot to give a lot.
Something I said really spoke to this old man and he reached over and pulled me in and gave me a big hug. In fact, before he left he had given me three big hugs and several hand shakes. He said that he loved what I was doing and that the world would be better if people did things like this for each other.
He took the toonie, said good bye, and I was left there agreeing with him – the world really would be a better place if people did the simple things for each other. Thank you old man. I will never forget that.