So, the other day my six-year-old son Winston was selling cookies on the curb, when a neighbor pulled up and asked how much.
“Two cookies for a dollar,” the little capitalist explained.
“Not a bad price,” the neighbor said, pulling out his wallet. He gave my son a dollar. Winston held the bill for a moment, mulling over its possibilities. I like to think of him standing there with that cool, crisp, green George Washington in his hot hand. Who knows what he was thinking in this small, charged economic moment? He has, after all, a very, very dim notion of what a dollar can buy. I doubt he understood very well the math of his own mantra: “Two cookies for a dollar.” What does that really mean? But if I don’t know what was going on in his head, I do know what he did next. I have an eyewitness.
He handed the neighbor a cookie and promptly ate the other one himself.
So that’s what it means, “Two cookies for a dollar.”
When I first heard that story from the woman who was caring for Winston that day (and who had baked the cookies and set up the stand and provided the change and somehow handed him a crisp five-dollar bill at the end of the day), I leaned against the car’s fender and laughed myself into an embarrassing state.
What makes that story funny? There’s a rhythm to it, I guess, and a surprise at the end. And it’s funny, maybe, because the unsophisticated kid jilted the wealthy adult. Maybe, too, Winston was not trying to cheat the neighbor at all, which is sort of funny. He was thinking something like, “I’m not too sure what it means to say ‘Two cookies for a dollar,’ but I am sure of this: I get one of them.” It’s also funny to think of what would happen if Winston’s curbside, supply-side economics were put into effect everywhere. What kind of weird world would this be if everybody, when they bought something, shared what they’d bought with the shopkeeper?
That neighbor got half the food a dollar was supposed to bring him and didn’t do much more than shrug his shoulders and grin. Unlike my son, his grasp of economic exchange is probably very acute, honed by millions of exchanges in the course of his life. Winston has a very dim notion of reciprocity and remuneration. If his sisters had been thus served, they would have set up hue and cry: “That’s not fair!” But the neighbor just shrugged and grinned. Maybe he saw in that moment that there are times when just deserts aren’t joyful desserts.
Having just come off the Ecclesiastes production, I can’t help adding that there’s something rather foolish about trying to keep your accounting too strict. I don’t mean fiscally, necessarily. I mean when you are asked to do something, asked to spend something , asked to give and give and give again. In class. In your room. On your team. In your church. And your promising dollar keeps turning into two quarters’ worth of a cookie. Lady Wisdom would say it this way (in Cal Seerveld’s translation):
Go ahead, throw your bread freely out upon the face of the water, because after many, many days you shall find it back again.
That means: give away to many and more than many people whatever has been allotted you,
for you don’t really know at all what evil there is still to come upon the earth…..