It’s funny how this song is so often used when people celebrate coming into a fortune. I guess that was the point of its creation though: to show that, while money can certainly be a good thing, it may also cause people to act in very sad and unfortunate ways towards themselves and others.
In the early days of my life, my family and I were so broke that I wasn’t even aware of the hopelessness of our situation. If I got $5, I considered myself a rich man! Of course, I wasn’t able to maintain my wealth any longer than it took for my sisters to become aware of it. They’d always concoct some scheme that found me at the store, buying them candy. Or worse, one of them would just remove it from my pockets while I was sleeping or otherwise distracted.
The first time I can recall being made aware of how little we actually had occurred while on a trip to Atlanta. We’d come down with our church, and they’d gotten my family the hotel room as we wouldn’t have been able to afford it. My mom didn’t come, but all of her five children as well as my cousin went down.
“So, how much did you guys bring for spending money?” one of the chaperones asked. “$20.” “Apiece?” “No, for all of us.”
To their credit, they didn’t laugh or make some crude remark while in our presence. What they did though was in some ways worse. “Well, I’ll cover meals and clothes and whatever you guys want while here,” the lady told us. “And will our mom owe you as a result?” “Oh no, no, of course not!”
When we returned home, the first thing this woman did is march up to my mom and say “You owe $183!” She justified herself by saying that if she’d told us our mom would have to pay, then we may have chosen to starve ourselves that whole weekend. To us, it felt like a real slight. We didn’t know just how little we had, but we’d sure planned on making it work somehow.
Another incident occurred much later in life. By this time, I was nearly 18 years of age, yet I still hadn’t possessed $100 at a single time. This was to be my first.
I was in attendance at the North Carolina Rehabilitation Center for the Blind, where I was to undergo preparation for surviving in college and the real world that lay beyond it. Part of that was, of course, how to properly handle money. They therefore paid us a weekly amount that we could use for recreation, transportation, and other expenses. I was overcome with excitement as I signed my name on the line that authorized them to cash the check.
As soon as that envelope was in my hot little hands, I passed it over my shoulders to the sighted girl right behind me. “Do you mind helping me sort this?” I asked. I wanted her to tell me which bill was which, so that I could organize them in my wallet according to my method.
In this, she saw opportunity. She immediately began exchanging $20 bills for 5’s, and 5’s for singles. The woman beside me saw this and fortunately intervened: “hand me that stack!” As it turns out, the woman beside me had already been a victim of the thief behind me, so she was definitely watching closely. I was chastised by adults, and I learned pretty quickly that I needed to be careful just whom I allowed to organize my money.
I guess my naivety stemmed from an inability to understand why people would do such things. The lack of class displayed in the first example and the greed shown in the second are a major part of why making large sums of money has never been high on my care list as an adult. Oh sure, I would like to do work that gives back to society in some important ways and allows me to feel satisfied, but I know that having massive amounts of money won’t guarantee me these things anyway. Just give me enough to live on, and I’m ok. Because what my mom may have lacked in wealth, she sure made up for in love, pressed down, shaken together, running over, and too luminous to be contained.