“You want us to do what?”
I stood in front of several pairs of confused eyes as I finished putting on my hoodie to face the cold air outside. I stopped as Samantha looked at me as if I had just lost my mind. Fifteen middle school and high school students joined me for a winter night’s youth group excursion before heading to a football game at the high school. They were used to my inventive ways to teach them life lessons. To be fair though, I had never asked them to do this.
“I want you to take the five dollars that I asked you to bring with you tonight, and I want you to give it to someone at the mall we’re going to right now.”
Still the same blank faces as before. David held up a hand.
“Wait, so this money isn’t for us?”
“The actual money isn’t for you. No.”
The kids didn’t seem so eager to get in the van now, but eventually, they all climbed in. I had chosen a Friday night for a reason. The mall was always packed on the weekends, and Friday nights seemed to attract the most interesting characters. This experiment would be a lot of fun to watch. There were a couple of other adults with us, and I could see them trying to figure out what the point of this little adventure was.
“We’re going to call this ‘Broadcast my Five’. Each of you has the chance to ‘broadcast’ or spread your five dollars and see what happens to it.”
“I know what’s going to happen to it,” David snorted. “It’s going to end up with someone else.”
“How do we know who to give it to?” Ali asked ask we all piled out of the van and started walking through the parking lot. “I mean, there are a lot of people, and it’s just five dollars.”
“You’ll know. Trust me.”
We entered into the food court, and split up into three groups. My group started walking with me.
“So, how about we watch you do it first,” Ali suggested. “Just so we know that we are doing it right.”
I laughed. Out of everyone in my immediate group, she was the most shy. Going up to someone randomly was definitely not going to be easy for her. My eye spotted a father walking around with his two kids. He looked a little frazzled. Maybe it was because both children were at that stage of life where endless energy kicked in at seven the morning and didn’t fizzle out until late o’clock. As we passed them, I suddenly stopped.
“Sir, I have something for you,” I said producing the five dollar bill. “I just wanted to give you this.”
“Why?” He asked looking at the money with a raised eyebrow while holding on to one of the human energizer bunnies beside him.
“Just because I care. It’s a free gift.”
He stared at me for a moment waiting for me to give some sort of condition. Then he slowly reached out and grabbed the five dollars.
“I hope you have a good night, sir,” I said starting to turn and walk away.
“Wait!” I turned back. The father was shaking his head. “I—um—thank you. I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything, sir.” My group of kids followed me as we continued to walk away.
“He was speechless,” Austin noted. “I’ve never seen someone that speechless before. I want to go next.”
Austin walked into a clothing store while the rest of us waited at the entrance. Purposefully, the boy scanned the area until he saw what he was looking for. She was standing in line at the register going through her purse frantically. She was so pre-occupied that she didn’t notice the teenager approach.
“Hi, ma’am.” Her attention turned to him.
“Yes? I don’t have time for…”
“This is for you.” He handed her the five dollars, and then embarrassing started to blush. “And—you know—it’s free. Like—I just want you to have it.”
Austin wasn’t prepared for the enormous hug that he received a couple of seconds later. His body stiffened as the woman dropped her purse in the embrace.
“I don’t know who you are or what you’re doing, but this five dollars,” she held up the bill, “is exactly what I needed for my purchase. I was literally five dollars short. How in the world?”
Austin walked back to us with an amazed look on his face. Three more kids found people to give their money. David gave his to a cleaning lady who started crying right on the spot, Luke gave his to one of his friends’ dad who happened to be buying a gift for his wife, and Sarah gave hers to an older gentleman who teared up causing her to tear up as well. Each one of the kids had a genuine smile on their face after their encounter. All we had left was Ali. She looked less nervous after watching her friends go, but not completely at ease.
“Over there,” she nodded. “There’s a lady standing by that store. I want to give it to her.”
“Go for it,” I said. “We’ll be right here.”
Ali took a deep breath and walked over to the lady staring though the window into one of the stores.
“Excuse me, ma’am. I just….” Ali didn’t even get the words out. The lady snapped to attention and held up a hand.
“I don’t want anything that you are selling.”
“Oh, I’m not selling anything ma’am,” Ali held out the money. “I just wanted to give you this.”
“Money?” The lady stepped back a little. “Why? What’s the catch?”
“No catch. I just wanted you to have it,” Ali said emphasizing the word ‘you’. The woman frowned at the offer.
“Nothing is just free. You don’t just give away money without expecting anything in return, and I don’t want to be involved in anything.”
Ali was getting frustrated. The woman wasn’t understanding.
“It’s a free gift. I promise. There is nothing I want from you.”
“No. I don’t believe you.”
Ali watched the lady walk away leaving her standing there with her hand extended and her mouth open. I walked up to Ali with the rest of the group.
“What happened?” She croaked. Ali looked at me. I saw tears form in her eyes. “Was it me? Why didn’t she let me give this to her?”
The kids gathered around me.
“Ali, it wasn’t you. I know it hurts a little when someone rejects a gift you want to give them and misunderstands you. The truth is that we all have the opportunity to genuinely care about people and care for people. It’s not about the amount of money we gave tonight because five dollars isn’t a lot. It is about the fact that each one of you took the time to care about someone. It was someone you didn’t know, and you didn’t expect anything in return. This is how you change the world. You love because love is needed.” I turned to Ali. “But not everyone will accept that love. Ali, don’t let it discourage you from loving someone else.”
Ali found someone else who was extremely grateful for her gift before we left the mall, and the entire group left that night with amazing stories about how they brightened the night of some unsuspecting shoppers. And it wasn’t long after that night that several of those students asked when we could go out again to ‘Broadcast my Five’.
© 2011 Steven Burton All Rights Reserved
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