Everyone has wondered what on earth they’d do with a million dollars or a bottomless bank account. In fact, it’s one of the most common getting-to-know-you kind of questions. We all want to be financially secure. Few are brave enough to live without money on purpose, as some have, and most of us know what it means to have to stretch a dollar.
When we’re kids, the answer is easy and usually selfish. All the candy in the world. Buying the world so you could boss people around. Your own theme park. More generous kids would spend on a trip for their family or medical treatments for ailing grandparents.
You get older, and your dreams mellow. You want your dream car, then to put the rest in savings. You’d pay for college and a starter home. You’d pour it into a dream wedding or a startup company of your own invention. In all honesty, these dreams are the unlimited candy dreams grown a little stale.
I think of my own journey with this question. When I was small, I wanted a castle and a horse and a pet tiger. I got a little older and realized it would be smarter to buy a small house and invest the rest. I got older still and realized that I needed to give 10% of what I had back to God, so I set that amount aside in my head and played with the rest, wondering what dreams I could concoct that wouldn’t come out too greedy.
I had an encounter outside a Walmart today. There’s this corner of the parking lot right next to an exit into a side road where homeless people hang out with their signs and their battered backpacks. It’s always men with scraggled beards and sad expressions whose cardboard signs may or may not be telling the truth.
My parents taught me to be generous. Generous, but with a guarded mind. Most homeless people have legitimately met with hard circumstances and need enough to get back on their feet. Some are out for drug money. It’s not a fifty-fifty split between the two groups, but it’s hard to tell the sheep from the goats. I want to help in any way I can, but I don’t want to enable anyone, either. I usually run to a store to buy them some granola bars and a big bottle of water.
This time, there was a healthy looking man standing on the corner holding a bright green sign. The usual “homeless and jobless, please help” was followed by “I have a wife and kids.” Normally my inner skeptic would rear her bespectacled head at this claim, but not this time. I looked again, and saw that his wife and kids were with him. On the street corner. Tired. Sad. Confused.
Suddenly I knew exactly what I would do with all the money in the world.
All I could give him was five dollars and a prayer. He thanked me in a heavily accented version of English, and I couldn’t help but think he had brought his family here in the hopes of giving them a better, safer life, and everything had caved in on him. Far away from family that could take them in, far away from any familiar face. No community, no friends, nothing. Just himself, his wife, his children, and a lime green poster board.
There is not difference whatsoever between me and that man. None whatsoever. I can’t hope to explain why I have all my needs met and he has nothing. I’ve done nothing to deserve the things I have, and I’m ashamed of myself for not running back into that Walmart and buying them bags full of food or getting them a hotel room or something. Anything more than five lousy dollars.
Families should be able to spend Saturdays playing together at a park, not needing to beg on street corners.
If I were handed all the money I can imagine, I’d see no point in keeping it. I’ve got what I need. More than what I need. But there are so many people who don’t.