The place was a zoo! The Lovely Lady had said she would be back to help me open up, but she was running late. As I unlocked, the customers began streaming in the door, each one with a reason to need my attention. And, the phone was ringing…Two lines at a time, over and over. With my usual aplomb, which is to say, nearly none at all, the customer’s needs were dealt with, the peals of the ignored telephone frequently eclipsing the conversations. Since the customers were patient, each one was finally served and the Lovely Lady arrived, just in time to help the last of the rush. We had a short reprieve and then did it all again, several times. It was, after all, the last Saturday before Christmas.
Immediately following the third or fourth rush of the day, I noticed a bill lying on the floor directly in front of the counter. It was a twenty dollar bill, so we assumed that someone would be missing it soon. The bill went into a container we keep behind the counter to await its rightful owner, but no one came back or called. After awhile, we thought that perhaps it would make sense to phone a few of the morning’s customers with whom we were familiar, so we started through the ones we could recollect. Those we could reach responded in about the same way. “No, we didn’t lose it. Hope you find who it belongs to. Christmas isn’t a good time to lose money.”
I did think of one customer whose name I couldn’t recall, but we had done business with her before and I knew we had a number somewhere. The Lovely Lady found it after a lengthy search, and we left her a message to call us, without giving a reason. Within a few minutes the phone rang. “You wanted me to call?”, the curious voice on the phone asked. When I explained that some money had been found, she took a minute, ostensibly to check her pocket. Coming back on the phone, she said, “Yes, I lost some money. Can you just mail it to me?” A little surprised, I asked her the amount she had lost and she said, “Well, five dollars.” I replied that this wasn’t the amount we had found, so she called to her husband (obviously in the next room), “Did you lose any money at the music store?” When she returned to the phone, she was sure this time. “Yes, he lost the change she gave him.” Turning to the Lovely Lady, I asked about the change, finding out that he had given her a twenty and received about six dollars in return. “No,” I said. “That wasn’t it. It was a bigger bill.” I assumed that our conversation was over, but she yelled at her husband again, “Did you lose a big bill?” This time, I could hear him talking, but couldn’t understand what he said. Nevertheless, she was back shortly. “He lost a hundred dollar bill!”
I have to confess that each of these exchanges had made me a little more angry, since it was obvious that this woman had no claim whatsoever to the cash. However, keeping my cool, I said calmly, “It’s pretty clear that this isn’t your money. We’ll keep looking.” The audacious woman wasn’t finished yet! She readily admitted that the money wasn’t hers, but now she wanted to help me be virtuous! “If you can’t find who it belongs to, you should donate it to a group that helps poor people…”
Absolutely stunned, I hung up the telephone. I think I’ve just spoken to the Grinch who stole Christmas! At least she’s done that for me. I have written before, that I find most people to be honest in their dealings with me. I want to believe that. I’ll believe it again someday. But right now, this one person has shaken my faith in humans. Here I was, trying earnestly to find the owner of this money. But this woman was willing to throw her morals aside for the sake of five, then six dollars, and then one hundred dollars. And, if lying and attempted fraud weren’t bad enough, she decided that it would be appropriate to add hypocrisy to the mix.
It hit me today, as I fussed at the Lovely Lady while we prepared dinner; I in turn was rapidly becoming a Grinch. I was unhappy yesterday, as we visited a friend who had graduated from college. This morning’s worship services (including communion) had been grudgingly participated in. And, the joyful anticipation I always have of family arriving for Sunday Dinner was mysteriously absent. Amazing how one encounter with a liar, would-be thief, and hypocrite could affect me so. But as I considered the cause, it became clear to me. The true issue isn’t the woman, it’s me. I’m the liar. I’m the thief. I’m even the hypocrite. And, I desperately need forgiveness. And, I deserve it no more than she. It’s sad that I have to be reminded so frequently that forgiveness is offered to all who come, regardless of merit.
This week we celebrate Christmas. The spirit of Christmas is forgiveness. It’s love. God’s free gift to us is redemption. And, we get to respond in kind. After all, the Baby in the manger grew up and taught us to pray, “Forgive us our transgressions, as we forgive those who transgress against us.”
The Grinch after all, is just pretend. But this Christmas thing…This is as real as it gets!