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Byron Shire
February 25, 2021

Five dollar therapy

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‘Hollywood’ drug squads over the top

I guess we have to thank Hollywood for the enduring myth that a black-clad squad of elite 'blokes', preferably with cool helicopters, from the capital are needed to crack down on really serious crime in hick parts of the country like Mullumbimby.

One morning a little while ago, I awoke with an excruciating pain in my chest. It was not physical, it was not even emotional, but it felt as if some energy was crushing me. I felt rather desperate, so desperate that I even considered calling someone like a friend for help (which would be very unusual for me). Instead I meditated for a while and felt a little better. But I needed to feel a lot better in order to feel normal again, so I began thinking about what I could do for myself, what I could get for myself, what I could put into myself, that would make me feel okay again.

After a short time I felt thoroughly disgusted by how self-focused I was, how self-possessed I was, trying to constantly take things into myself in order to feel better. From God to chocolate, I realized at that moment that I didn’t need to take things into myself, but rather, needed to give things away from myself. Since I do a lot of volunteer work already, I naturally thought maybe I should call in and do some more volunteer work’, and although that’s a great thing to do, I needed something more immediate and direct and spontaneous. And I needed it now, or at least, today.

The only thing I could think of, oddly enough, was that since I had become financially stable lately after inheriting a small bit of money, maybe I should find some way to give money away. I first thought that perhaps I should transfer a bit of money into all my friends banks accounts, but then I realized how convoluted that would be, trying to acquire their banking details in order to make it work.

Then I thought to myself that since I just happened to have an unusually large number of $5 bills in my wallet, why don’t I go down to a busy street corner in town and try giving them away. This seemed like a very immediate and direct action to take release myself but posed its own challenges. The first one was decided for myself whether I was beginning to lose my mind! Checking carefully I noticed that it still resided quite comfortably within my big fat head!

OK, next problem. The issue is that I have to find a socially acceptable way to interact with those strangers.

I will have to navigate my way through people’s issues about money (which are vast!). Such as ‘What do you expect in return’, or ‘is this about sex’, or, ‘this person is clearly crazy and I’ve got enough ‘crazy’ in my life, so, no thank you!’, or, why are you giving me money, do I look so forlorn that a complete stranger needs to ‘save’ me?

You get the point.

All the while I was very clear that I absolutely did not want to create any kind of ‘scene’.

Alas, failing to come up with a way to do this, I decided to simply go downtown and just see if I could work something out. So I did that by positioning myself at a busy street corner. My first ‘strike’ took me about 10 minutes when an acquaintance ambled up (a meter from me) to assess some baby plants that were for sale at that location and which he was clearly thinking of purchasing. I thought to myself ‘this should be easy’, and held out a five dollar bill in front of him. He noticed the bill and then shot back at me ‘what’s this!?’ The only thing I could think of to say was ‘I’m giving away five dollar bills today, do you want one?’ He thought for a millisecond and said, with a not a little enthusiasm, ‘sure, I’ll buy this plant with it!’ And took the bill.

‘Okay’ I said to myself, ‘maybe this can work.’

Next, an African looking woman came out of the shop with a baby in a stroller. I thought for a second about the possible misinterpretation of my offer, but then wheeled around and held out a five dollar bill in front of her as she passed by. She stopped, and if I recall, said something like ‘what is this for?’ I replied ‘nothing, it’s yours!’ She hesitated for a second and then said in a cheerful way, ‘thank you!’.

Okay I said to myself, that was challenging but it did work just as well as with the acquaintance.

Next, I tried just dropping the five dollar bill onto the walkway a bit in front of me as I stood stationary. A couple people walked by and didn’t seem to notice the bill but eventually someone did. She picked it up turned and looked at me as if to say ‘is this yours?’ I replied ‘no it’s yours, it dropped out of your purse last time you walked by here’ (I had no idea if she ever had passed by this spot before). She hesitated, kind of shrugged and in an amused way, looked me in the eye, smiled and said ‘okay!’ and then proclaimed ‘I guess the universe is smiling on me today!’

Then I spotted two Road Workers came walking along toward my location, perhaps 15 meters away, and towards where I stationed myself, one of which saw me drop the five dollars from a small balcony. When he got to the bill he bent down and picked it up and handed it up to me, at which point I handed it back at him and said ‘no, it’s yours,’ to which he simply shrugged his head and walked off without it.

Then I went over to a local bank to get more $5 bills and after the bank teller gave me 15 more, I tried to give her a five dollars tip. She was horrified and declined! I get it now – bank people have to be beyond reproach around handling money!

Next a little girl who saw the five dollars on the pavement and assumed it had blown out of the musicians busking collection hat nearby, so she dutifully picked it up and deposited into his hat. At the moment I would have preferred her to have it, but it showed good character on her part.

Then a friend strolled by who I gave the five dollar bill to, but he turned and gave it to his four-year-old son who was by his side.

A young lady walked by and picked the bill up and handed it back to me, and to which I handed it back to her by telling her: ‘no, it’s yours’, but she refused it and passed it back to me. Later she came back and set up a selling blanket on the ground with her boyfriend, hawking jewelry. When they weren’t looking I dropped the fiver into their space without them noticing it!

What is also plainly obvious is that five dollars is not enough money to change anyone’s circumstance. It is a pittance. But there is something about finding money which makes people feel like the universe is smiling upon them today.

At one point a mother and her young son sat close by and started noticing what was going on. I dropped another fiver and the lad approached and picked it up and I congratulated him. Then he saw me drop another one to the pavement and became quite shocked by what he was witnessing. He then came over to me and sat next to me to get closer to the action! He repeatedly asked me why I was doing this to which I kept replying ‘because it’s fun’, which seemed to mystify him. He and his mother became my audience and they quietly laughed and delighted as much as I did in the interactions that followed. Later his mother came over and told me that her son couldn’t’ understand the idea of someone giving away money. She said that she had to explain to him that giving things away was a natural enough thing to do

The only slightly unpleasant encounter occurred when a sort of tough looking young street guy came by and snatched up the five dollar bill quickly (and not looking at me). To which I exclaimed: ‘its yours, keep it’. To which he replied in a surly way ‘bloody right, its mine, I’m keeping it’.

15 minutes later he came back and happened to notice a little old lady taking a five dollar bill, and who I was busy convincing that it had blown out of her purse. I think he understood what was going on at that point and had a slight look of amusement on his face.

He returned a third time about a half-hour later with a girlfriend and held up what looked something like a six-pack of beer and a bag of goodies and smiled broadly at me and said ‘hey, I bought these with that five dollars’.

Another time, a gray-haired gentleman walked by and picked up the five dollars and then came around onto the porch where I was standing, and where several other people were located and began inquiring as to who could possibly have lost the five dollars. I interrupted and told him last it was he who had lost it last time he had walked past, and must have slipped out of his pocket. He protested that the last time he passed he was on the other side of the street! I countered that that is no doubt true, but the wind blew the bill across the street to this spot. He then showed a mildly bemused look on his face, and finally said, ‘well okay’ and left with the five dollars.

There are many more stories that I could tell but that should give you a good idea of what happened. For a variety of reasons I’ve only done it a couple of times, but I usually keep a small stash of fivers in my wallet, ready for the ‘next time’ the spirit moves me.

The result for me was my heart was filled with joy for a few days and I learned once again the old saw that ‘giving is receiving, and to receive, is to give’!

Brian Emmett, Myocum


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  1. thanks so much! what a lovely story!
    you didn’t fully explain whether the pain in your chest that prompted the exercise was indeed resolved by the end


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