01/10/2013 12:56 pm ET Updated Mar 12, 2013

What Happened When I Gave $1 Away

A few weeks ago, I'd fulfilled the promise of one of those buy-9-get-1 free drink cards at my favorite boba shop. I walked away feeling quite satisfied at my get but didn't make it a block until I saw an older man sitting on the sidewalk. His head was bowed and his hat was out, asking. Something about the way his face looked made me pause after I passed him by: It was downtrodden, defeated, humble.

Part of me, the part that hurries, told me to just keep going. But I found myself digging out a dollar. I guess I figured I'd just gotten something for free, so why not. I turned back around and bent down to put it into his faded cap, wished him happy holidays. He turned up his weatherworn face, which now showed a glimmer of hope and kindness that hadn't been there before. Again, I walked away feeling satisfied with myself and promptly forgot about the man.

Not three hours later, in a crowded subway station, I was rushing down to catch my train. My eye caught on something on the ground: a crumpled dollar bill. Though the station was teeming with people, the space around this dollar was strangely empty. I double-checked that its rightful owner wasn't obvious, then bent down to pick the bill up and stuffed it into my pocket, feeling glee.

After getting off the subway, I got into my car to start making my way down the road. I stopped the radio's "scan" function when it hit a Christian station and started listening to the preacher. (I'm not a particularly religious person but sometimes I like to listen to religious radio as I drive, just to understand what drives so many.) His sermon, as it happened, had a loud-and-clear take-home: Whatever you decide to give away will always come right back to you.