One Dollar, Ninety One Cents, and Some Smarties

This week's reflection is written by
Mr. Joseph McDaniel, OSFS

Earlier this week, on Sunday evening, I was going for an evening run through Wilmington, Delaware, just as it was beginning to get dark. As I turned right at an intersection to enter Brandywine Park, two boys standing at the opposite street corner called out to me, “Hello, Jogger!” Wondering what kind of greeting this could be, I stopped, and they came over to me holding a plastic bag.

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“Are you a jogger?” they asked. “Yes, I am,” I replied. Reaching down into their bag, they responded, “We’d like to give you these.” Out of the bag, they placed into my hands some unopened packages of Smarties candy. I attempted to politely refuse, in part because of the impracticality of jogging with pockets stuffed full of candy, but more so because of a rather cynical fear that this may have been some sort of prank. This suspicion was heightened when in addition to the candy, they placed into my hand a dollar bill and some loose change. Were they somehow trying to frame me as a thief? Or were they simply two budding entrepreneurs who had gotten the direction of exchange backwards?

“I should be the one paying you for this candy,” I said. “No,” they said in reply. “We want you to have it.” As the sun was setting, it dawned on me that these two boys were serious on doing exactly what they had just done: freely giving one dollar, ninety one cents, and some Smarties to a random passerby.

“Why?” I asked. Their response: “Because we want to give back to the community.”

Filled with emotion, I profusely thanked them for what they had done. I remarked to them, “The world needs more people like you...and whenever things get tough for you in life, remember this evening, and that the small things that you do for people, like you just did for me, do matter.” I asked for their names, Amir and Alex, thanked them again, bid them goodbye, and continued my jog through the twilight.

My encounter with Amir and Alex this past Sunday at the corner of 18th St. and Van Buren St. was both an indictment and a gift.

First, the indictment. I like to think of myself as a tolerant, generous, Christian person. During my time as an Oblate, I’ve built somewhat of a resume to convince myself of this. Yet, as I saw two black children walk towards me out of a neighborhood that I perceived to be low-income, my first instinct was that of fear and suspicion. Guilty as charged. I’m not as immune as I may think to the worldly cynicism that I so often decry, or the prejudice I think I’ve moved beyond.

But beyond the indictment handed to me along with the candy and change came an even greater gift. It was the reminder that, yes, in this world there are gifts that are given in a wholeheartedly gratuitous way. I didn’t need what they gave me; ironically, as a person who takes a vow of poverty, I will likely never want for any material need. They could have probably used the money and the candy much more than I did. Instead, from their own poverty they chose to give it away to me in my own richness.

According to the often utilitarian logic of this world, giving a random stranger some pocket change and sweets does nothing to help the community. But, as our Lord himself says, what has been hidden from the wise and the learned has been revealed to children (Mt 11:25, Lk 10:21). It wasn’t about the money or the candy. The gift that Amir and Alex gave me was much greater. It was a reminder that despite the resistance and hesitancy caused by my own privilege, the gratuitous love showed by Amir and Alex won out. It was a sacrament, a sign and an instrument, of the love that overcomes the barriers of race, class, and comfort that so often are used to divide us.

Earlier on Sunday, I had heard proclaimed at Mass the story of Abraham encountering three mysterious visitors at his tent. Ancient Christian tradition has depicted these visitors as being the three persons of the Trinity. Just as God visited Abraham in the person of three guests while he was camping near the oaks of Mamre, I too was visited by God in the person of two children while I was running by the oaks of the Brandywine. Their unconditional generosity that day was a sacrament of the free gift of love that God bestows on us every day.

For this, I say to Amir and Alex, “Thank You.”