I’ve counted my parking karma as the one super-power that came about with my mammogram result. And, trust me, living where I do, parking karma comes in handy. But as I’ve put the treatment phase of this story behind me, and, truth be told, am less in need of good on-street parking options around town, I seem to have developed a new…well, super-power is not exactly what I’d call it. Weird capability, more like.
I keep finding people’s wallets.
Okay, two times doesn’t count as an epidemic. But in the past two weeks, when I’ve been out on my early perambulations in My Fair City, I’ve twice found myself crossing paths with other people’s wallets.
The first one, two Sundays ago, was the sad event you might expect the words “lost wallet” to portend. The day was rainy, and the leather folder was soggy. Clearly, someone had emptied it of its useful (to the emptier, that is) contents, and simply flung what remained into the gutter. I picked it up, and, expecting to find nothing of value inside, was surprised to discover a passport. A passport! Well, for anyone looking for cash and perhaps an obliging credit card to make some quick nefarious purchases, I guess that this overly official piece of ID was not worth hanging onto. I know how hard it is to replace a passport, so I knew that for that item alone, I’d need to find its rightful owner.
Passports don’t tend to include current contact info, unless the owner has penciled it in. This one hadn’t, but the name on the passport matched a business card, still tucked into a wallet slot, right between four library cards. Four! Local and far flung, public and private, big city and small town. My heart ached for the man with dual citizenship and a love of borrowed books.
I tracked him down by email (easy enough, thanks to that business card) and was careful to indicate in my subject line that I only had what was left of his wallet, not all its original contents. He responded immediately, and once we realized we were just blocks from one another, he walked to my house, rang my doorbell, and was as effusive in his thanks as one human being can be to another. I apologized for the fact that it was wet and otherwise empty, but no matter, the fact that he wouldn’t have to replicate that most precious item was enough to nearly make up for the loss of everything else. He promised to send me an announcement when his next art show would be opening.
One week later, one more wallet. This one I spied only after I’d noticed the sun glinting off a shiny credit card, lying right there, out in the open. A credit card, then beside that, the wallet, and beyond, some loose change: the tableau suggested no foul play, more likely a slip up, dropped by mistake upon stepping out of a cab or off the bus. Unlike the first, this second wallet was brimming with its owner’s identity: credit cards, student ID, driver’s license, frequent buyer/flyer/user cards. Everything about this one suggested that I’d have no trouble locating its rightful owner.
But when I arrived at the address listed on multiple items, I did not find the woman in the photos; instead, I met a confused and sleep deprived individual who had only lived in her new apartment for two weeks. Ah, sorry, my mistake. A few Google clicks and one LinkedIn contact later, I was able to email the wallet’s owner. The hours that passed before I got a response made me quite sure that somewhere in my neighborhood, there was a graduate student of architecture, sleeping in on a Sunday morning, not even aware that her wallet had gone missing. I was weirdly relieved to know that her first moment of awareness would be clicking on my email, thus eliminating the whole, “Oh, shit!” and retracing of steps and calling stores and restaurants and party venues phase. The good news would precede the bad news.
Which it indeed did. Ten minutes after I got her call, wallet-owner #2 was at my front door, even more effusive in her relief than #1 had been. She was, after all, getting her entire plastic-ID life back. She and her boyfriend, who accompanied her to my doorstep, were delighted and slightly awed that such a thing could happen, that a complete stranger could go to any lengths to make sure a lost wallet would be rightfully returned. They all but bowed to me in their gratitude.
I found myself wondering, after they left. Why was I so anxious to go the distance, do the digging and get those wallets back where they belonged? Why did it matter to me, to meet my recipients face to face?
Here’s what I’ve concluded: First, I’ve left my own wallet behind, multiple times, in all the usual zones: I’ve left them in the grocery cart, on top of the car, at the coffee house counter, in the diner booth—and, almost always, I get my wallet back. Maybe that’s my truest superpower: I can space my most critical personal items and have them float home to me, intact. At some level, I feel a need to both pay my good fortune forward and back.
But second, and new to my thinking: there’s something more going on in my life, and that’s the fact that I jump at the chance to help others out these days. I’m convinced that the reason I kept tracking these wallet owners down, not just dropping their lost items off at the closest police station, was that I wanted to be of service. I wanted to be the active helper, the donor of my usefulness. I’ve been a recipient of so much good will in the past year—I truly am in that spot where any chance to be the good doobie feels like a chance to repay my whole world.
So, for all of you out there who have had those conversations with friends in hard spots, and have offered your help, and have come up empty on what to do to be of service, and have subsequently found yourself laid up, or needing assistance of one sort or another: call me. Soon enough, when your ship has been righted, you’ll know what this feels like. It feels so very good to be the giver.