Growing Up, Growing Old, Growing Out

Today’s blog takes a different approach.

Visualize a grown man reminiscing about his childhood. One event – he was 10 years old – lights up his mind, so he sends it to his mother. That story is what I want to share with you. Note well its opening line:

When you’re 10 years old, your world is small.

That’s true, right? From tiny beginnings our world widens, sometimes inevitably, sometimes by conscious choice. Our circle of friends grows. We develop interests -- maybe in books or movies or Google, in astronomy or competitive sports or new technology.  At some point we may be challenged to make a gift of value – time or money or the governing focus of our life – to a larger cause. You choose your dream: better health care in your community, world peace, cleaning up the environment. You discover that strangers can be friends… your world grows bigger. And more interesting.

That, as I see it, is the true trajectory of life.

To my mind, it is illustrated in the life story of the person we glimpse today. His worldview expanded one day when he was 10… it has continued to stretch throughout his professional career and volunteer service.

Let me be transparent about this: that 10-year old boy was my son. I’m proud of him. Proud also of his mother for helping our boy see beyond selfish advantage to personal integrity. And fairness.

Sometimes mothers do that; sometimes it’s the function of maps that show all nations, all peoples, fairly and accurately, helping us develop a truly global perspective.  In our continuing search for a better world, let’s be thankful for all the help we can get!

Now for one person’s story and a tribute to his mother:

I was ecstatic as I counted out the twenty-dollar bills in front of us. The bills smelled new and were as crisp as the December air. Twenty, forty, sixty dollars? Wait! Something was wrong! This wasn’t the correct amount.  How could I have made a mistake? I knew that the market price for silver coins was double face value. I also knew that I sold twenty dollars of silver coins – 60 quarters and 50 dimes. I am sure I counted this out 5 times as I agonized over my decision to sell. But the coin dealer was more experienced than I and certainly he couldn’t have made a mistake. I finally realized that the crisp new twenties stuck together as Ralph, the grumpy numismatic who always patrolled his wares behind the locked glass counter, dealt out the money. My heart raced. My head swelled. My mouth dropped. My Mother’s words were swift. “Chris, you go right back there and return that extra $20. That is not rightfully yours."  She was correct, and I of course I knew it. Opening the car door provided the tacit response that she sought. 


I made the short trip into a long journey. I tried to rationalize keeping the money. Each justification met resistance but did not dissuade me from fabricating the next one. I sold the coins for a “good cause," to buy Christmas gifts for my family. Now the presents could be even greater which would certainly make for a memorable Christmas. Ralph is grumpy – if he were nice it would be easy to do the right thing and return the money. The coin shop was far richer than I – they had lots of money and cases filled with coins and wouldn’t “miss” twenty dollars. He’ll keep the coins and sell them at a profit when the price of silver continues to rise. I didn’t tell my Mother I would return the money – I just left the car without saying I would return the money so technically I wouldn’t be lying. When does the shop close? Could I dawdle long enough so that the shop would close? Certainly, my mother would be too busy to bring me back tomorrow. None of these provided justification or satisfaction – even to a 10-year old boy. I eventually made my way down the long stairs to the lower level, the long hall past the bowling alley, the double doors into the shop, and approached the long counter. Ralph looked surprised to see me. He obviously had not discovered that he had overpaid. I explained what happened and handed him a $20 bill. A surprised thanks was the only word that stumbled from his mouth. My gait slowed as I walked out of the store. Would I get a reward? Perhaps an Indian Head penny, maybe a Buffalo nickel for my collection? I couldn’t look back, and only deafening silence bade me farewell as I slowly pushed through the double doors to the long hallway. 


Life lessons are not always apparent at the time they occur. It is only with reflection and maturity that the true value of these lessons comes clear and understood. What would I have done if I rode my bicycle to sell those coins and returned home before I discovered the mistake? What if I hadn’t so proudly counted out the fruits of my capital transaction in front of my Mother? What would have happened if my Mother decided there wasn’t enough time for me to go back to the shop and she needed to get to her next errand? The memory of the Christmas presents both given and received that year has long ago been erased. The extra money that would have been spent on gifts would not have changed that lost recollection. The memory of the life lesson provided a much more meaningful experience.     

I still own some silver coins from those paper route days. They have continued to appreciate and are now worth 12 times face value. Although I will keep these for the memories, the coins I sold provided a much greater return. 


Chris’s Mom is 92, living independently, and still providing life lessons to her four children and seven grandchildren. She was recently diagnosed with a form of blood cancer which, though rare, is highly treatable. Chris will dedicate his 10th Pelotonia ride this year to raising awareness for this cancer type.