Is honesty flexible?

I’m sometimes not a very nice person.  I also find a lot of wallets… 2 in the last year… probably 10 in my life…. I think I frequent weird places at weird times.  Today tested me though.

It was about 8am on a Saturday morning and I was on my way to work via the bike. Saturday morning, at from my days in Germany, means lots of broken glass, so I was being especially aware.  I saw it and I laughed out loud… was that a red crocodile skin wallet? I circled around and went back.

A glance around… hmmm… no one around. I flipped it open to the cash, and at first I thought I was really back in Europe. After a few moments I realized that it wasn’t a euro, but was actually a new $100 bill….wow… a stack of $20s… separate section of small bills.  I looked around again but there still wasn’t anyone around, so I put the wallet into my backpack and rode to work.

I opened it up again after lunch. At first glance, the name on the debit card didn’t match the name on the pseudo-government ID card. I had a strong guess as to what this meant.  At the bottom of the ID card, I read in small print This person is under active supervision, and if this is an emergency after 5 pm please call XXX.  A quick google search noted that this was a prisoner release program for non-documented immigrants designed to save the government money with an ankle bracelet and 12 hours of home arrest a day.

So…. $283 in cash, belonging to an illegal immigrant… so had done something more serious than steal a soda?  Just the $83 in small bills would buy the entry-level tile saw I’d been lusting after for the glass shop. I wondered what Fernando was actually like.  Did I really care?  There were some handwritten notes with dates in Spanish?… and a Brazilian Real… Fernando must be Portugese.  Hmm.. I have a great friend from Portugal… they are nice people… strong sense of family…. and with the hearts of adventurous explorers.

I tried to focus on the fun my boys and I could have with that cash… I knew I was going to keep the money.

When I got home from work, I called the number handwritten on Metro PCS prepaid business card looking thing.  Fernando answered. He quickly transferred me to someone who could speak English.

Lee: I’m calling to ask if Fernando lost anything this morning?       

Yes si si, Fernando did lose something this morning — did you find it? 

 Lee: Can you tell me a little more about it?

Si!  Personal documents… you have? 

Lee: [reading this now, the description applies to every wallet, but I guess because I didn’t say wallet….] Yes, I have it.

I was home alone without a car, so I gave them my address and they arrived less than 10 minutes later.  I immediately recognized Fernando from his government ID, and he actually recognized me as the guy on the bike this morning (caricatured by pedaling with his hands). He looked really happy… like REALLY HAPPY! He offered me his hand, and when I shook it, flashes of working in the woods with the loggers came to mind from 20 years ago.  Back then, I used to judge people by the roughness of their hands and if they had a salt ring that had soaked through to the outside of their hat.  Fernando’s hand was so muscular it was more spherical than flat… and as rough as any logger I’d worked with before (he wasn’t wearing a hat).

His friend who I had talked with on the phone thanked me profusely, then translated Fernando’s thanks again.  All I could think to say was “It wasn’t mine, so I’m giving it back…It is all there” but I said it to the ground, as I couldn’t look either of them in the eye. Fernando handed me 2 $20s, but I pushed them back at him.  [I almost kept it all Fernando… I judged you without knowing you.  I’m sorry.]  This very muscular 5’4″ Brazilian stepped forward and offered me his hand again in a way that could not be denied, and when I took it, he rolled my hand and put the $40 into it.  He looked me right in the eye and nodded — he knew, and was thanking me anyway.

Why did I call after 10 hours of thinking about it… my boys.  If they had found it, I would have made them give everything back because it didn’t belong to them. They saved me from being a ‘do as I say not as I do’ sort of Dad. My boys make me strive to a better person.

I gave the $40 to my wife and we agreed to buy the tile saw the next day.    


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