The Universe’s 20 Bucks

This photo is a placeholder and (regrettably) has nothing to do with the post.

Bounding down the gym’s stairway and hurrying through a lonely hallway, I stopped mid-step, as if bumping into the force field surrounding what lie on the floor. My own shadow on the walls and reflection in the glass of the exit door startled me.

The shock of seeing lost money, other than the usual coin or two, quickly passed when I remembered my schedule, and I grabbed it. Questions ran through my mind – do I take it to the front desk? Do I keep it?

My legs moved faster than my brain and decided for me. I pushed open the door to the parking garage and got in the car with my dad.

Immediately I asked, “Did you loose any money?”

My dad reached for his wallet in instinct but stopped and answered no.

Unfolding the $10, I found two more $5. Both excitement and guilt further welled up inside me. I told my dad the dilemma, but being tight on time he had already started the car and gotten us halfway out of the garage.

“This is either a gift or a test from the universe…” I said.

When I took the money, both possibilities came to mind in union, and I felt a sting of guilt upon choosing the “gift” perspective. This was out of character, and I know that I’d cry into a pillow were I to head home and find myself $20 lighter – okay, maybe the newer me wouldn’t cry, but I’d definitely be distressed.

My dad said that the previous owner might not notice, let alone notice before leaving the gym and ask the front desk. Still, $20 seems like a lot for a college student not to notice. My mom speculated what I had as well: even if someone asks the front desk about money, how do they know this person is telling the truth? Anyone, honest or not, could claim they lost a sum of money. However, I also argue that people don’t just do that. And if someone states the specific amount of money lost, such as $20, and someone else turned in $20, it’s probably an honest situation. If not then it’s a lucky situation for the falsely innocent, who gets $20.

So what was this $20 to me? A gift or a test?

I considered it to be a gift, though not without hesitation.

After turning into our driveway, I casually asked my dad about how much I’d paid off towards a trip I’m taking in July.

“Not very much–”

I gasped and tried to debate the numbers.

“I think you’ve almost paid off airfare,” My dad said matter-of-factly. Meaning..! On top of airfare, I still owe the entire $600 towards my housing…..

Oh. Oh…

I didn’t argue.

The universe tested me.

And I faaailed. щ(ಥДಥщ)

When I first wrote this post I thought that’s where the story ended, but during revisions I remembered an incident in April where I lost $18 at a campus restaurant.

I accidentally grabbed two meal tickets (they were stuck together) but only filled one out. Even so, the cashier charged me for two meals. When my order finished, it wasn’t vegan like I specified (it had giant meatballs, parmesan cheese, and a breadstick smothered in butter; my vegan soul was scarred), and there was only one. Words sat on the tip of my tongue, and I nearly spoke up, but gazing down at the glob of murder pasta I thought, “I really don’t want to deal with two of these.”

I could have requested a new meal and/or a refund, but the server vanished, and I didn’t want to bring it up to the cashier, who seemed to be having a bad day. Making me feel even worse, I left and threw out the entire plate. I try to be conscious of food consumption and waste, but I didn’t know what else to do. Eating it is obvious treason to my vegan morals, and giving it to my parents or strangers would be indirect consumption.

The whole experience left me traumatized for a couple hours.

When I told my mom the story, she started getting upset and blamed the cashier, but I explained that she seemed upset and overwhelmed. As a former waitress, I could relate and forgave her.

“Karma will work it out,” I kept saying.

Despite loosing my money and wasting food, I learned. I need to be brave and speak up for myself (“don’t get scammed” is what my mom always says, but nobody scammed me… the university ate my money, not the employees) and to forgive negative circumstances. Blaming the cashier when I made mistakes too (going up with an extra, though accidental, ticket and failing to mention it before she charged me) would not change what happened. What I could control is my attitude, and I chose to empathize and forgive (after a couple hours of anxiety and hurt feelings I could write an entire post on).

And I was right. Karma paid me back.

Of course, every lost $20 is different, and I promise to always use my best judgement. I still feel some guilt, but this comes back the whole “you control your attitude,” and thus I’m viewing the outcome positively. However, as a reader and listener I can see how it might sound presumptuous.


I used the money to buy a book and teff flour, but I just realized that the best way to handle this is to donate the money. DUUUH MJ, it only took you a couple revisions to think of that…

Okay, the organization I’m donating to is Compassionate Living. Compassionate Living held a video outreach at my JC and are responsible for converting my ex- and me to vegetarians (who later leveled up to vegans!). They do video outreaches all around the Sonoma county area, table at college fairs and other events, and host the Sonoma County VegFest. I’m grateful for their commitment to animal activism and for changing lives, including my own, for the better.

Even though the previous owner lost their $20, we get to share in good karma as the $20 goes to a great cause.


Have you ever found cash on the ground before? What did you do with it? Feel free to confess in the comments below, for this is a no judgement zone! Unless you bought poison or something and killed someone. That’s bad karma, my friend.

Thank you for reading!


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