Who I Am When No One Is Around

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“It’s just up the road, about half a mile after the church,” my neighbor told me. “The pumpkins are sitting out in the yard. It’s the honor system, you know,” she added.

The honor system, I mused.

We hear about making the honor roll and about honors given to people for specific accomplishments. Yet this is a different kind of honor. This idea of an honor system speaks of trust. It expects and believes the best.

I recognized the place as I parked my vehicle along the curve of the road. I’d been there before.

In the summer,  I’d helped myself to cantaloupe and emptied my change into the box.  Now, in the autumn, I’d heard there were pumpkins for sale.

There certainly were pumpkins for sale — rows and piles of orange pumpkins, as varied as the kids who play in our yard.

I chose my pumpkins and put the money in the box.  That’s right— an honor system with a shoe box for collecting money.

I’d been there before when the box had piles of bills in it. How easy it would be to help myself to the change!

That first time around, I expected someone to come out from the house to take my money.

Then I noticed the hand-written sign: “God trusts you, and so do we.”

I spoke to the Mrs. the other day. “I check the box often and keep a count of the pumpkins, and as near as I can tell, no one takes any without paying for then. I figure if they need them badly, they can have them,” she chuckled.

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How easy it is to pay up when someone is watching. Yet how simple it would be to take five pumpkins and only pay for four. Especially when no one is watching.

It’s a matter of principle — and of character.

I remember the cassette tape my kid’s grandmother made for her baker’s dozen grandkids before she went to Heaven.

She tells a story called “A Penny’s Worth a Character.”  Before she tells the story, she explains character to the kids.

“Character is what you really are,” she says. “You can pretend to people that you’re something you are not. Character is how God sees you. What God know about you, that’s your character— the real person you are.”

Someone has said, “Character is what you are willing to do when the spotlight has been turned off, the applause has died down, and no one is around to give you credit.”

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I think of that when I shell out my greenbacks and put the rock back on top of the lid of the misshapen box.

I think about that when I’m wheeling my cart down the grocery aisle and knock something onto the floor. No one else is in the aisle with me— and it would be quicker to keep moving than to backtrack and pick up the item. That’s what the clerks get paid for anyhow, right?

I think about that when the change the clerk hands me is incorrect— and I’d never have to tell.

I think about that when I’m tempted to return something to Wal-Mart that’s broken. How easy it would be to tell the clerk it was broken when I got home —when it wasn’t.  I’d get my money back— but I’d lose peace of mind and my integrity.

I think about it when I had the parking spot first and someone is making a move to pull in.

I think about it when I’m driving down the road and choose not to  throw trash in somebody else’s yard.

I think about it when I notice something fallen off the shelf and lying in the aisle—and I’m tempted to go on because it’s not my job – instead of making my world a better place.

Yet there’s a sense of satisfaction when I take the time to right the wrongs in the world around me— especially when nobody is around to give me credit.  Nobody that is, but God.

The pumpkins are nestled among the mums and hay bales in our front yard. How would it feel to look at them, and know that I’d cheated folks of their money? How does it feel to know I was true to the honor system—even if no one else knows?

No one, that is, but God.

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This article was first published in November, 2000 and later printed in the book  Southside Glimmers.  That was fifteen years ago.  You know what I’ve learned?  We never outgrow temptation.



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