He is the same guy with the slightly scraggly beard, standing at the exit of the Waltham Costco. He’s one of those “checkers” who silently “ask” for the long receipt you have which quantifies the way too much money you’ve just spent.
No one really knows why these employees study your flimsy, curling receipt and how some sort of wisdom from up above finally directs them to make their black sharpie line of approval. You are then FREE to exit with your giant cart of stuff. Now you are liberated to fight the “everyone’s a cowboy” parking lot.
He’s the same. But he’s different too. He’s the guy in December who showed up on local newscasts with his fellow Costco lottery ticket purchaser. Their fortune came after the gigantic Power Ball that got even your most skinflinty relative to visit her local CVS as she dreamed about winning that historical bounty.
This was a “smaller” windfall.
No the bearded guy with the mysterious peer through you eyes, the one who I’ve never heard speak a word, won $25 million, (half of the 25 million he split with his colleague).
When I saw them in those perfunctory photos, I thought. Well, those guys will never again see the industrial lights or sit down at the food court for an obesity inducing over sized hot dog or “baked for a gorilla” slice of cheesy pizza.
I was really surprised yesterday when THERE HE WAS. His sharpie poised to offer the corporation’s stamp of approval on my receipt. The newly many times a millionaire was still working at Costco!
Hmmmmmm. Should I ask him why? No, I thought Mr. Reticence wouldn’t like that. I would invade his quiet privacy. But I did take the opportunity to whisper to the returns desk clerk. “Why is he still working?” “He just likes working and wants to work,” she answered.
I guess I’ll never know why. And to be honest, I really don’t want to. But the whole episode inspired me to reflect about money, especially during a time during my pre New Year’s day ruminations.
Does money really change you? Can it? The happiness researchers say no. After studying lottery winners before and after, once the public notoriety dies down, they see no difference in these people. No, they are just as happy or unhappy as they were before.
“I have seen what the investment of donors to UMass Boston has done
to the value-neutral commodity of wealth. They’ve changed it into
something with power, something that transforms . . .”
The dramatic financial windfall is just a flat proposition. Same before, same after.
But money is at the heart of everything, at least the superficial heart in terms of human fulfillment. The Fiscal Cliff is momentous and not important too. Not that I don’t feel the pain of the economic ally insecure and what budget cuts will mean for their quality of life. Or the decrease in mental health services that might help the next Adam Lanza to reverse course, or the emergency aid that barely softens the blow (but at least offers a tributary of hope) for victims of the nation’s most devastating hurricane.
Those things are real. But when you scrape winter’s ice with your snow shovel, even just a little, you can see your brick stairs again. And what those stairs show is human compassion and generosity, companionship, opportunity and hope. We saw it in Newtown, and in Rockaway, and is the intimate spaces of our own lives where the support of one person makes a difference.
So what does this have to do with a public university and philanthropy?
In my musings it struck me that no, money doesn’t change us. But we change it. I don’t how the Costco chap will invest or share his largess. But I have seen what the investment of donors to UMass Boston has done to the value neutral commodity of wealth. They’ve changed it into something with power, something that transforms, something that touches lives as profoundly and humanly possible. The process offers a rare glimpse of contemporary alchemy.
Gifts to UMass Boston over the past year (as seen in Celebrating Generosity: Philanthropy 2012 — and many more) have given our students purpose and direction and confidence. Scholarships have a giant impact on the difference between becoming that first person in a family to graduate with a degree or not.
And as we know, opportunity for one, sends ripples of uplift for a family and that family’s broader community. And when one person has been the recipient of generosity, that intervention becomes like a burr in his or heart. A burr that really can’t be dislodged because it hugs so tightly.
And it inspires a great will to give back to society. It cultivates an understanding that money can be value laden. And generosity, but financial and otherwise, is embedded in who these graduates are and who they will become. They will understand or the deepest level that, yes money can be used for great good.
So as we dance through these first few weeks of January may we embrace generosity in whatever form that is right for us. Maybe its taking on Ann Curry’s “26 works of goodness” encouraged to cope with the gaping hole of educators lost and their snuffed out twenty little living lanterns. Or maybe it will be something else. Maybe . . . it will be a gift to Boston’s great public university.
Nan Cormier is director of advancement communication at UMass Boston