Mr. McCoy, my high school history teacher and current Facebook friend (weird how that happens) had countless, classic quotes, phrases and methods.
When you gave that shocked, “ohhhhh, I get it now!” look in class, he called it a marblehead moment.
When you thought you could sneak in a side conversation during a lecture, he’d stop talking, freeze, and just stare at you until everyone in the class felt their hearts literally beating through their collective chests.
19 years later and I remember all of them pretty vividly, but the one thing that will never slip my mind is his message/ultimatum during the holiday season. He’d say that if he ever saw any of his students walk by a Salvation Army representative ringing their bell and not drop anything in their bucket - a dollar, quarter, dime or penny - he’d fail us. No matter who we were. FAIL US!
Did he ever follow through with this promise? I’m not sure - my guess knowing the legendary McCoy is yes - but even if he was bluffing, the message resonated.
Over the past month, there’s been an added constant in my daily walk to our Soho office. On the west side of Broadway, just below Spring Street, a middle aged man has been squatting quietly in a baseball catchers-like position. He keeps his head looking straight down between his legs and casually props up a small cardboard sign that says “HOMELESS. NEED HELP. THANK YOU AND GOD SPEED."
This unfortunately isn’t a very foreign site in New York City - or most cities - but a couple days after I spotted him for the first time, I gave him a dollar.
The first day I did, I didn’t think much about it after the fact. But then we had our best ecom day in months…and like any competitive person, I got superstitious. So, for the next four days, I made sure to stop and give him something - a dollar, some quarters, or an orange or apple in my bag. The superstition wore off, and he just became an added part of my day, making sure I helped him in some way.
One morning on my walk with our kids and dog, Pokey, I started telling our 3 year old about the man on the street. What it means to be homeless and how important it is to help those that need it. She asked a lot of questions and even said how funny it was that a guy had lost his home. "Where did it go?” she asked. “How come he can’t find it? You can just lose your home like I lost my red chapstick?"
For the fourth night of Chanukah, we got her a tiny change purse that cutely says "You’re beautiful. Don’t change!” She loved it, and immediately starting filling it with all types of stuff. On another one of our morning walks earlier this week, she started digging into her new gift, saying she had something to give me. She dug out two fake quarters, some Chanukah gelt and a piece of gum, and said, “Daddy, will you give this to the man on the street and ask him if he’s found his home yet?"
I’ve had a lot of great teachers in my life. My parents, my older sister, my actual teachers, like Mr. McCoy and so many others. I’m now at the point in my life where all of those teaching lessons are coming full circle because I’m now the teacher, showing the way for our kids. It’s a daunting and somewhat overwhelming task, but teaching my daughter about the importance of giving - all year long, and not just the holidays - feels like a good first step towards molding her into what Jacq and I want for our kids…to simply be good people.
It would be pretty cool if every toddler learned early on that it really is better to give than to receive. THAT would be a truly awesome marblehead moment!