Money may not grow on trees, but in Manhattan I keep finding it at my feet.
A native Californian, I now live and work on the Upper West Side as a full-time nanny. My workday is spent pushing a bright pink stroller, passing strangers I will probably never meet.
Still, I didn’t give a second thought to helping a high school kid who dropped a $10 bill on the ground while strutting to his headphones. I picked it up and ran down the block after him, the baby shouting, “Faster, faster!” as I tried to catch up.
That same week, I was shopping with my friend Gina when a girl in a studded black hoodie rushed past me, a $20 bill falling to the linoleum floor behind her. I darted after her.
“You could’ve kept it. This is a recession,” Gina said.
“No way, it’s not my money,” I responded.
Being in a recession shouldn’t mean humanity regresses as well. In a city that can seem rather overwhelming, I still believe in trying to do what is courteous and considerate, even in the smallest of ways. Like pulling someone aside to tell them if there is food stuck in their teeth, or running after a person who drops lunch money.
Two weeks later, my gal pal Scarlett and I were braving the cold, trying to hail a cab on Fifth Avenue. My teeth chattering and paralyzed by a swirling breeze, I watched as Scarlett sprinted down the block in 4-inch heels after an available taxi van. She hopped in and we leaned back in our seats feeling warm, thankful, relieved. I saw a piece of paper on the floor and scooped it up without looking, suspecting Scarlett dropped it while stepping into the cab. It wasn’t until we passed under a traffic light that I glimpsed a balding man staring back at me, a stoic expression on his face. It was Benjamin Franklin on a $100 bill!
Was it coincidence? Luck? Karma? I can’t say. All I knew was that I wanted to spend it in a generous manner. I mentally went through my options: hand it over to the driver, donate it to Haiti relief, take Scarlett out to dinner. As I envisioned my friend running in platform shoes against a 25 mph wind chill for me, the decision was made.
“Are you sure you want to share it with me?” Scarlett asked.
Her question made my decision all the more satisfying. That is the neat thing about New Yorkers: They are often surprised when you do something kind for them.
Instead of going out for cocktails, Scarlett and I dined at a French restaurant. We took a picture of good ol’ Ben and sent him back on his way through the Manhattan currency exchange.
Buying lunch one Friday soon after, I placed my $15 change in a shallow coat pocket. Standing in the drugstore only a minute later, I felt the money was gone. I backtracked, but it was rush hour—probably 50 people had strolled in my steps within that time. Maybe a morally crooked person saw me drop it and, saying nothing, claimed ownership of my Manhattan moolah. Or perhaps someone found the abandoned cash and it really helped him or her out that day. I’m inclined to believe in the latter. Many of us may be strangers in this city, but practicing compassion adds up to a lot more than dollars.
Sarah Elder is a writer living in Manhattan and working on her first book. The other day she found another $6.
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