Clink! Clink! Cha Chink! I expected three one dollar bills to come out of the vending machine, but instead I got three shiny, gold-colored Thomas Jefferson dollar coins. I scooped them up, dropped them in my coin purse, and headed off to hear the afternoon speeches by Bill Bennett, Frank Gaffney, and Geert Wilders.
Between presentations and meetings I helped manage the “Conservative Children’s Book” table where I was selling “Little Bird Dog and the Big Ship.” People would often skim by the table, thumb through one of the attractive books on display and ask, “What can we do to get these books into classrooms and libraries?” After a time I made a little sign that said, “Please buy two books and donate the extra one to your local school.” Like any worthy endeavor, selling books is a grassroots effort.
I went back to my hotel later in the afternoon to freshen up and change into a dress. At the corner of the intersection just outside the doors of the hotel, a young man with short, static electricity-styled hair and a nervous energy, caught my eye. Another woman was next to me on the sidewalk, but she continued on by when he spoke. I stopped to hear him out.
“I’m short a dollar to get on the bus to go to my next job interview,” he said. Listening carefully, I approached him.
Testing his authenticity I asked, “Where did you have your last job interview?” He rattled off three credible-sounding companies and so I reached into my coin purse and pulled out a gleaming dollar coin. I held it up in the sunlight, twirling it between my thumb and index finger. “First,” I said, “what can you tell me about Thomas Jefferson?”
The young man, wiry, with a kind face, dressed in a black button-down shirt with narrow vertical stripes, black pants and a matching belt, a black and gray backpack wilting over his right shoulder, paused for a moment, tapping his chin with his finger.
“You know he was one of the Founding Fathers, right?” I urged him to engage in conversation.
“Yes, sure,” he answered, “I know all that stuff.”
“Why do you suppose he was chosen to write the Declaration of Independence?”
“Because,” I continued, “he had a mastery of the language. He was extremely well read and educated. He was an intellectual, really an artist with the English language.” I had the young man’s attention. “Can you tell me anything else about Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence?”
“What can you tell me,” he said, “about Abstractionism and Existentialism?”
I paused, considering a different tack, knowing that a discussion about Existentialism in 104 degree heat on a sidewalk in Denver might not end well. “Okay,” I said,”how about this. What is more important to your life right now, Existentialism or liberty?”
He thought for a moment. In his youthful sincerity he was eager to engage in a real discussion, but he didn’t really understand where I might be leading him.
I continued in my teacherly way and held up the coin. “Do I have the right to keep this coin? Do you have the right to keep the money you will earn when you get that job you want so bad?”
His eyes closed half way and he nodded in the affirmative ever so slightly.
“Does the government have the right to take your money and give it to another person?” I inquired.
“Oh, I see. You’re talking about freedom like doing what you want with your own money.”
“Exactly!” I exclaimed, “Liberty means that you have control over your life and your money.”
Just two days earlier, Chief Justice John Roberts handed down the abominable “Obamacare” ruling. I was still smarting from the rebuke of my liberty by a single, misguided and possibly malevolent man, and both incredulity and gloating were still ringing through streets of the America. I continued. “Does the government have the right to take your money and pay for the health care of another person?” I used the coin to beat the air emphatically. “You will work hard for the money you earn.” I pointed to his chest. “You’re fit. I can see you keep yourself in good shape. Is it right that the government would take your money to pay for the diabetes medicine of the fat guy who weighs 400 lbs and doesn’t give a crap about his health?”
I saw a light flash in his eyes, and a the corners of his mouth turned up, raised by a sense of knowing. “Yeah, I get it,” he said.
I felt a motherly affection towards this young man. Something about his sincerity disinclined me from any harsh rhetoric, and I felt a desire to build up a constructive sense of pride in him. “Who owns your life?” I asked.
He opened up, “Oh yeah, I get what you’re talking about. Like God gives you your rights and stuff.”
“Bingo!” I declared. “You own your own life. Your life is a gift from God. The time and effort it takes for you to make money is a big chunk of your life. Your creativity is your life. It’s okay to be selfish with your own life because it is so precious!”
He nodded positively, his eyes brightened with understanding. “So I should be able to decide what I do with my money…” he said as if voicing only a portion of a bigger thought.
“The government does not have the right to take your life or your money and give it to someone else. We can take care of one another if we choose, and I know you will use this dollar wisely because I know that you know that I worked hard for it.”
Smiling with impish satisfaction, I placed the burnished Thomas Jefferson dollar in his hand and said, “I hope you get a great job. Good luck to you.”
The young man followed me a few steps as I walked toward the door of the hotel. He reached out his hand and I shook it. Of all the handshakes I’ve had from great men and women, leaders, renowned Conservatives, political figures, and all the rest, this young man’s warm grasp was the best of all. It was the firm and steady grip of a man who was built up in a moment of assurance that his life was deserving of something amazing. He looked me directly in the eyes before we parted and said, “Thank you.”
As I walked into the hotel lobby I turned to see if he had walked away, and was filled with a cavernous regret when I realized that I had failed to ask him his name.
When I returned to the vendor’s aisles and my table of books, a woman with straight black hair and concerned eyes picked up “Little Bird Dog and the Big Ship.” I told her of my efforts to correct the terrible myths about the Vietnam War that had been perpetuated by the media. She asked, “How can we get this books into all the school libraries in the country?” I leaned over the table and spoke to here with the utmost sincerity, “One teacher at a time. One librarian at a time. The only way we will make a difference is to have a personal connection with one heart at a time. That, after all, is what the “grassroots” are all about.”
By Marjorie Haun 7/3/12