My eyes read the words: “I will give each of you a $1 bill. You must find a stranger who “looks like” he/she could use an extra dollar, simply based on a first impression. Observe that stranger for a couple of minutes. You can also talk to that stranger if the situation allows. Then decide: is that stranger deserving to receive the dollar bill or not? You have the option to double the money, matching an extra dollar out of your own pocket. Write a few paragraphs, explaining your choice and the conclusions drawn from your experience.” I walked out of my emergency medical technician class with a dollar in my pocket and a determination to succeed.
I think that all of us have a savior complex. It’s not necessarily a bad thing though. After all, as humans, I would like to believe that we are inherently good, meaning that we always want to be the one who can save someone’s life. Going into the assignment, I felt this way. I kept on telling myself that somehow, a dollar was greater than it really was. Somehow, whoever I gave this dollar to needed to evoke a sob in me, needed to grab my hand and shake it up and down mercilessly. Maybe even needed to match my amount, or explain how much this singular dollar meant to them with a story better than any I’d heard. I equated this dollar bill with my last dollar on earth, feeling as if I only had one shot to get it right.
I hesitated in giving my dollar away, letting infinite possibilities slip away from me. From the man who had given me the brightest smile as I held the Berkeley gate open for him to the stylishly dressed guy that confidently held his head up, as if nothing could bring him down; to the many homeless people that needed more than one dollar but whom I had never spared the time of day before; and to others who simply looked down on their luck. Nonetheless, I went through the week letting these opportunities pass as my dollar sat snugly and sadly in the sleeve of my phone case.
It was Friday, January 25. I had been in meetings all day, and somehow found myself at Pierson Game Night. Still feeling unproductive from the night before, I decided to head upstairs to find a place of solitude when I ran into Pierson’s associate head of college, Jenny Davis. She was sitting on a couch and working on a puzzle while watching an old British TV show called “Murder Mysteries.” We exchanged small niceties before settling into silence. I sat on the couch diagonally from her, typing away on my laptop, as she continued to do her puzzle and watch the TV show. We continued in comfortable silence for hours, the only sounds being from my laptop and the TV. As I was getting ready to leave, I gave her the dollar. I would be lying to you if I didn’t say that it took me at least 10 minutes to gain the courage to give her that dollar.
I gave my dollar to someone that I felt gave me something more than I knew I had even desired in the first place — simply letting me be in their company. And although a price tag can’t be put on company or kindness, I wanted that dollar to be a sign of thanks for a special moment of silent company between two people who were completely different: in age, race and even residential college.
In the Yale world, where everyone is briskly moving from classes to club meetings to finishing the readings for their lecture classes, it’s hard to stop and observe who is truly in need of a dollar. And in the seldom events when we do stop, we overcompensate — attempting to make our interactions and experiences as grand as possible. We are out to save the world, to give our dollar to the saddest being there is, and as such, we expect more in return than we could have possibly given through a single dollar.
We shouldn’t make a dollar out to be more than what it needs to be, or wrap ourselves up in finding the perfect person to save — sometimes, the person who needs saving is actually yourself. I gave my dollar to Jenny Davis, a woman who didn’t need saving but saved me from the loneliness I had felt all day, even when I was surrounded by people at every turn.
In the course of this assignment, I have learned to never let an opportunity to give a dollar slip away. The next time someone flashes a big, bright smile at me, I will let them know they’ve brightened my day. The next time I see a fashionably dressed person, I will compliment them. And when I see the homeless people around New Haven, I will help them out, whether it’s with money or a kind word. And I can say with full conviction that I will not expect anything in return — I am unafraid to give.
Khue Tran is a first year in Grace Hopper College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .