Local Lifestyle

Monday, Jun 17 2013 06:49 PM

HERB BENHAM: The dime I can spare, brother, but not the guilt

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

March of Dimes sent me a solicitation. In the envelope was a shiny dime. An attractive, shiny dime. What made it more compelling was that the envelope contained address labels, too.

A shiny dime and address labels. Usually, you get one or the other. Both is a banner day.

Address labels come in handy.

There aren't many good diseases or afflictions, but if the charity sending the solicitation is especially heartrending, I have a pang of conscience when I use the address labels and do not send a small contribution. I still use them, but I am not proud of myself.

Money presents a different dilemma. Somebody is giving you, entrusting you with, a sum of money. In this case, 10 cents. A shiny new dime.

At the very least, the dime is a gift. At most, it's an investment. An investment in your trust, fairness and willingness to be a part of a community of givers.

If not, who are you? Are you the sort of person who turns his back on innocent kindness? Somebody who ignores a humble solicitation? Think how much good the March of Dimes has done because people have thrown a few coins in the hopper.

I stared at the dime, turned it over in my hands and wished it were not new. If the dime were bent, rusty or encrusted with pocket sludge, this would become an easier decision.

Then I could become indignant. How dare you send me an old dime that looks as if it were plucked from the bottom of a fountain? A dime that is so dark and blemished that I can barely tell that it is a dime?

However, it wasn't. This was a new dime. A dime that looked as if it were minted yesterday and sent overnight. It was the sort of dime that has thrilled generations of children. The kind of dime Charlie Bucket was given by his grandfather, the grandfather confined to his bed wearing a night cap and dreaming about chocolate.

This dime was so nice that if I had had it as a child, it would almost be unspendable because who could trade it for five orange gum balls, three cinnamons and two grapes?

A debt unpaid and the ensuing guilt it produced was one way of looking at it, but "isn't it my lucky day?" another.

At the pool a couple of days ago, one of the swimmers reached into the pocket of his khaki shorts after his swim and found a hundred dollar bill that he did not know he had. He was ecstatic, as you would have expected him to be.

Rather than see the shiny, new dime as an obligation, why not look at it as serendipity, as evidence of one's good fortune? I hadn't expected nor asked for anything but now I had a new dime.

The third option included returning both the dime and the letter. That seemed like too much work both for me and the people at March of Dimes who would have to open the letter, process it and then put the dime back in the soft, leather pouch that I imagined it came from.

A few minutes later, I dropped the dime in the empty green Almaden bottle that had previously housed crisp Mountain White Chablis. No need to fret or try to even the score. That would happen as naturally as wine running downhill.

These are Herb Benham's opinions and not necessarily those of The Californian. Email him at hbenham@bakersfield.com .

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