A Lesson in Integrity

by Lenore Hemming
Kentucky, USA

A Lesson in Integrity

I was a single mother with a one-year-old son. I had a job that paid just above minimum wage. Times were tough and I had a lot to learn about life. Soon I would go back to school and begin to build a better life for us.

My son had his own piggy bank and liked to put pennies in it. He also discovered another piggy bank — my wallet. I would find him trying to get money out to put in his own bank.

That Friday afternoon, I had deposited my paycheck, keeping out just enough cash for gas and groceries for the next two weeks. The rest was for bills that were already late and in the mail.

I picked up my son from daycare, stopped by home and headed to the grocery. After carefully selecting groceries for the next two weeks, I made my way to the checkout. When everything was rung up and bagged, I opened my purse to get out the little white envelope from the bank.

But there was no envelope.

I checked again. Then it dawned on me — my son had gotten into my purse and taken the money while we were at home. I asked him about it, but you know kids that age — they get out two or three words and then dissolve into babble.

I explained this to the checker what happened and told her I would write a check. My plan was to deposit the money back into my account the next morning. It really wasn’t a big deal, we even laughed about it.

The store manager happened to be standing a row or two away listening to our conversation. He asked a strange question, “What bank do you go to?” I told him, and he asked me to wait. He came back with a little white envelope in his hand and asked how much cash I had.

When I told him, he handed me the envelope. In it was my money. Someone had found it in the parking lot and turned it in. The deposit ticket was also there, and he had planned to call the bank in the morning.

In that moment, I learned something about integrity that is still one of my core values today. The person who found that envelope had no idea that this was all the money I had for two weeks. They didn’t know that once I got home and couldn’t find the envelope, I would’ve had checks bouncing and be in even more financial trouble than I already was.

That person didn’t know any of this, but knew the right thing to do was to turn it in. Given my own financial situation, until that moment I cannot say with complete certainty that I would have made the same choice.

I learned that day that the right thing is the only thing to do — a lesson to a young struggling mother from a stranger with integrity.

Originally published as HeroicStories #756 on Oct 23, 2008

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