My son asked me, the other day, if I had ever stolen anything…
I had to think about it for a few minutes, because stealing isn't a habit of mine, but I do have to confess to a few shady incidents in my past.
The Tiny Tim Fund
I was 13 and my sister was 9 that December when our step-sister and brother suggested that we go carolling. It sounded like a fun idea. When they said that we could take a container and collect money for the Tiny Tim Fund and then keep the money for ourselves, it sounded like an even better idea to a couple of kids with no income and a not-fully-formed moral compass. We had a great time. It was one of those clear, perfect windless winter nights when the stars are bright. We tromping through the fresh snowy streets of Hudson, going door to door, singing our hearts out, and people were kindly disposed and generous to us with our Tiny Tim Fund margarine container. The next day our father dropped us off at Fairview Shopping Centre. My sister and I were excited that we would get to spend our money. When we called our mother to pick us up, Penny told her about our shopping expedition and how we had earned the money. Our mother was furious. She explained in no uncertain terms that what we had done was dishonest and wrong. She told us to go and put the remaining money in the Salvation Army kettle. My little sister was upset that she had to give up her "hard-earned money." I knew that we had to give up our ill-gotten gains because collecting money under false pretences wasn't cool, but I didn't really understand who was losing out because of our actions.
I have since put things right with the Tiny Tim Fund. The fund, operated by the Montreal Children's Hospital Foundation, provides services to families experiencing difficult financial circumstances in connection with coping with a medical crisis. The foundation still fund-raises.
One day during our year of economic crisis, I had taken the bus to the grocery store. That year, 1998, became known in the family as the year of no animal protein, when putting anything at all on the table was a challenge. Bus drivers in Bogota make change for the passengers… if they have change. The driver didn't have change when I paid the 200 peso bus fare with a 2,000 peso bill. When I went to get off, I asked for my change. The driver asked what I had paid, and I told him "dos mil." He, however, understood "diez mil" (10,000). He gave me the change and I hesitated for a moment as I realized the misunderstanding, but I took the money, got off the bus, and went into the grocery store and bought food for my family. I felt guilty about it because Bogota bus drivers don't earn a whole lot of money. They rent their buses from the company, and what they earn in excess of the rental fee is what they get to take home. Basically, I took money from the bus driver. I bought beans, rice, cooking oil, vegetables, and milk. We ate. I felt badly for the bus driver though.
My first year in Bogota I joined a gym. I loved going to the gym and in particular I loved the dance classes. It gave me the chance to be able to observe and understand how the steps are done and how to coordinate the moves with the syncopated salsa beat. I became a good dancer. I kept at it and I became a great dancer. My little local gym held an aerobics competition and I entered it and won. Buoyed by this success, several months later I entered the city-wide aerobics competition hosted by Cafam.
The day-long competition consisted of learning and performing a series of increasingly complex and physically demanding choreographies. People were eliminated in each round. I made it to the final round. Before the round began, an announcement was made: "We have been informed that there is a professional competitor who is not eligible to compete and who will automatically be disqualified if she does not clarify her situation." We finalists looked at each other, not knowing whom they meant. Nobody stepped forward. The competition continued. I didn't win but it was a tremendously demanding and exhilarating experience.
After the competition was over a few people came up to me and told me that I was the one who had been disqualified. Someone had said that they had seen me in a professional competition in San Andrés. One, I had never been to San Andrés. Two, the only competition I had been in previously was the one at my local gym.
I went to Cafam that week and spoke to the person in charge of fitness and recreation services. He was aware of the incident. He told me that the information was confidential and that he could not tell me who had been disqualified, and that if I had had any doubts that they meant me, then I should have clarified it at the time. I hadn't had any doubts at the time: I had no reason to think they meant me.
A few months later I went to the Cafam store to pick up some sparkling wine for my friend Estela's birthday. Estela has nine brothers and sisters who would be coming to her house for cake and bubbly, so I picked up two bottles. I remember reading the price tag as 1114 pesos. My entire grocery order came to less than 10,000 pesos. At home I looked at the bottles of wine again and saw that the price was 11114 pesos. I felt wave of delight as I realized that Cafam had given me two bottles of Spanish sparkling wine at a tenth of the cost. It was karmic retribution.
I regret the first two incidents. They were learning experiences. I don't feel guilty about the third one.
In general, my philosophy is: Give back (or pay) for what you take; Don't take what is not yours; Give a bit more when you can; and Sometimes people take things for a reason.