By Rod Andrew
After several years of traveling, many of us realize that the magnificent sights that we’ve seen often don’t linger as long in our memories as the small events we’ve participated in and the different people we have met.
Even something as simple as an act of carelessness can have a powerful impact.
Here’s one such incident that taught me a lesson.
We were in a small town in Southern California and had become part of a group which we had met in our campground and which often met for happy hour or went on excursions together. One evening, we all left to have dinner together at a pub in town. The group was a harmonious mix of Americans and Canadians, the latter including me and my wife, Sharon.
One of the Americans offered to be the designated driver so the rest of us could have more than one beer. Sharon and I piled into his crew cab and headed out. When we reached the pub, we parked in front of the entrance. We all slid out, dropping to the road, and headed inside. A table had been booked, as this was a popular watering hole.
We had started to order when I realized that my back pocket was empty. My wallet was gone. I thought back. Yep, I remembered putting it in there.
Panic set in.
“I’ve lost my wallet!” I yelled, and headed for the door, followed by my wife and several others of our group. I had already figured that the wallet had slipped out of the truck when I slid down from the seat. It wasn’t there.
I said the word.
All my cards and identification were in it and a substantial amount of cash.
I must have lost it getting into the truck. The driver offered to drive me back to our campsite. We headed off, leaving Sharon heading, anxious and resigned, back into the pub. Sadly, this wasn’t her first experience of me losing my wallet.
It took only a few minutes to get back to the campsite and to see that the wallet wasn’t there, either. We returned to the pub. I was now resigned to losing my wallet and beating myself up for my carelessness.
When we pulled back into the same parking spot, Sharon was back outside, standing on the curb, looking hopeful, but she slumped a bit when I shook my head through the windshield.
It was then that I saw my wallet. A sorry-looking man, who was sitting behind Sharon on a bench in front of the pub, was looking through MY WALLET. I had seen this man several times around the town, always dressed in a dusty, once-white tracksuit, and wandering, seemingly aimlessly. Someone mentioned that he was homeless and slept on the floor of a shed on the outskirts of town. I knew nothing more about him, but I was sure that I didn’t want him to have my wallet.
I yelled at Sharon that he had my wallet and pointed wildly. She couldn’t hear me through the windscreen [windshield], so I pushed open the door and called out, “That guy has my wallet!”
Sharon heard that, turned, walked back to him and asked him if that was his wallet.
He said, “No. It belongs to a Canadian. I’ve been looking for his car.”
Sharon said, “I think it’s my husband’s. He’s Canadian.”
By now, I was out of the truck. He looked over when I approached him.
I was agitated, but Canadian, so I was polite.
“Excuse me, but I think you have my wallet.”
He smiled. Nodded. “Where’s your car?”
I looked puzzled.
“Your license says you’re Canadian. I’ve been looking for a car with Canadian plates, but I couldn’t find one.”
I didn’t say anything, because I was a bit stunned by the gentle concern in his voice.
He went on. “I was just going into the pub to ask them to try to find you.”
Okay, I admit that my first reaction was relief that I was getting my wallet back, but I was also feeling ashamed at the way I had misjudged this man. He was homeless, so I had immediately assumed that he would not be honest.
As he handed me the wallet, I asked if I could give him something in appreciation for saving me from a lot of anxiety and inconvenience.
When he nodded, I gave him some cash and told him how grateful I was. It wasn’t enough. No amount would be, but he seemed pleased.
Inside the pub, everyone was relieved that the wallet was back. We all decided that it had fallen from my pocket when I climbed down from the truck and had bounced under another parked car. After we left to check the campground, the parked car had driven off and the wallet was picked up before my wife came back outside to wait for me.
I was lucky that an honest man had found it.
After telling my story, I ordered a beer, then realized that I didn’t even know the man’s name. I excused myself and went outside, but he was gone.
Unfortunately, I didn’t see him again before we left for home – back to Canada. I regret that, but I don’t know what I would have said to him.
I recovered my wallet that day, but the lesson I learned about misjudging people was far more valuable.
Oh, in case you’re wondering. I still carry my wallet in my back pocket. I haven’t learned that lesson, yet.
Read Rod’s last story here.