I looked at my empty petrol tank gauge, what did it matter? I was not going anywhere for New Year’s Eve. Right then the phone rang.
“Yes, I’d love to, thank you for this incredible opportunity!” Beaming, exuberance. I got an awesome opportunity, the most sought-after ticket in town for a massive music festival that sold out months ago and I was going! I was getting a free ticket to take some photos for the organisers! I raced out to my car!
I’d better put some petrol in my little car’s tank as it’s a good three hour’s drive south. My mind was whizzing with all the fantastical ideas of what photographs I may be able to take!
So why was I so broke? I’d budgeted! Yes, budgeted to send a couple of artworks overseas. It was a last-minute request, so my art was flying first class and not on some long sea journey. That coupled with waiting for payment from recent artwork sales. It was a bit bleak on the finances weather front!
I opened my wallet and there was $60 in cash! A cold shudder overcame me. A thin layer of sweat formed on my brow, holding my breath as looked over my shoulder to see a shopping bag with a few groceries! I’d stolen, I’d walked out of the self-service auto pay without paying! How did I manage to do that!! I took that call right when I should have paid! I was on auto pilot!
I now had $20 extra. There I was about to go to a festival with enough fuel to get there but not enough to get back and NO money for the three days I’d be there!
Would I keep the $20 you ask?
In a flash I remember so vividly being a teenager visiting my Grandfather in hospital. A man who was the core of my universe growing up. Being around him for me was like going from a frozen wasteland to sitting next to the warmth of the sun!
His personality, wisdom and charisma shone so brightly. We would talk about anything and everything. He was never patronising and genuinely listened. He always understood and got what it was to be me.
I recall sitting on the end of his bed telling him how I’d made new friends. How we’d all gone to the shopping centre but how they thought it fun to put little fifty cent soaps in their pockets and walk out with-out paying. When they wanted me to do the same, I told them the lady near us was really an in-store security and she was looking over our way! With this they all raced outside forgetting I’d not taken anything! They’d laughed and said the shop could afford to lose fifty cents!
I asked “How do I stay friends? They spend a lot of time at the shopping centre, its only 50cents, I guess?”
With a sparkle in his eyes that would light up like glitter he asked” Why do you want to be friends with people whose integrity is so cheap?”
“What do you mean?” I asked puzzled look on my face “Its only fifty cents. The shop can afford it”
“That’s the point!” They have all traded their integrity, their honesty and self-respect for a measly fifty cents!” They could have at least robbed a bank for a million (that was a lot back then!) and really made a fair trade. His blue eyes twinkled as he joked.
Then seriously he met my eyes and said, “What is your integrity worth, Linda?” a quiet pause as I thought. He continued with compassion in his voice “No matter how poor your wallet is never trade your honesty. No one can steal your integrity. You’re too smart to let silly girls sway your principles”.
I told my new friends I was visiting my Grandfather again in hospital. So, I’d have to miss out hanging out with them. As fate would have it, they decided to shoplift t-shirts and they were all caught!
I realised then and there that I’d rather return the $20 to the large Grocery Store without any hesitation. I knew my integrity is worth far more than any money.
I promptly went back a little apprehensive with the groceries and paid in full. Apologising to a surprised shop assistant who said, “I thought someone had just stolen again, I’ve never known anyone to come back!”
As I walked out of there a calmness rested my stressful situation. Everything would work out.
To my delight and surprise at the festival they had free food for the photographers. For me the biggest reward was taking some stunning unique shots! I did not have $1 to my name by the end of the three days but I felt so rich with a windfall of incredibly unique photographs capturing emotions in time that no one could plan for! Spontaneous moments that displayed the richness of humanity.
I don’t know how but I drove three hours with an empty tank back home. Almost feeling the whispers of my Grandfathers voice as he sat in the back of the car “Your integrity is priceless so I’ll push your little car along!”
The ‘Your Turn’ activity will be published in the release of my upcoming book. "Art Talks"