Even as I was doing it, I knew it was the wrong thing to be doing. I looked over to our neighbor’s yard—our “yards” in those days were basically dirt separated my more dirt—and saw his collie prancing about with my friend, Bobby’s, sack of marbles. His mother had made him the marble sack from some dark blue material and had sewn down a strip across the upper edge and ran some heavy-duty string through it so the bag could be drawn closed. If I can recall accurately, my mother had made me one, too.
Bobby’s dog was frolicking about with the bag in its mouth as if it were his fresh kill. As it flung its head about, marbles were strewn all over the yard. As the marbles struck the dirt, they cast up small clouds of dust. I stood in my yard and watched the dog fling that sack around until it was all but empty. Then, when the dog trotted off to find some other mischief, I turned to go into my house.
I remember practically stumbling over my own feet trying to hurry to my room. I was trying my best to act casual and not to break into a run. I’d gone in and out that door thousands of times. Many times during a given day I’d go to my room to exchange toys, depending on the adventure at hand. My mother would not have questioned me coming in again, going to my room and grabbing my sack of marbles and then even running back out. But I already subliminally knew what I was about to do wasn’t right. I may have even nonchalantly hummed some forced tune as I subconsciously tried to disguise my impending misconduct.
There was no one within eyesight. The dog was even gone. With my arms at my sides, still endeavoring to appear as if I were casually strolling across Bobby’s yard—something I’d also done thousands of times—I disinterestedly looked down and there, to my amazed eyes, sat a marble! Saint’s be praised! How did that get there?! Wh— Wh— Why, there’s another one! And another! These marbles must be just strewn about here because nobody wants them! They must be cast-offs or something!
As quickly as my fingers would fly, I gathered up as many marbles as I could. My sack was filled to the top; I could barely draw-string it closed. Then, probably humming some discordant tune, I ever-so-casually strolled back to my house. I was already so riddled with guilt over what I knew to be wrong, that my casual stroll probably looked like some sort of spastic robot.
I went into our living room and dumped my sack onto the rug. The marbles spread into a dazzling array, at least twice the size of my former measure. Despite my conscience, my eyes were wide, undoubtedly reflecting the radiance of my glimmering wealth. So this was how John D. Rockefeller felt…
Then, somehow, my mom was there beside me. Did she know what had happened? Could she tell I had way more marbles than I’d previously owned? Or did I spontaneously confess my crime out of sheer guilt over knowing better yet acting instead with greed. All I can remember was her gently telling me that I knew those marbles belonged to Bobby and that I should return them.
Instead of selecting out what I thought were Bobby’s marbles, for some reason I put all of the marbles back into my bag. I exited my house and, upon turning towards his house, I saw him sitting in the soft, over-trampled dirt where his father often parked his truck. Bobby wiped tears from his now dirty cheeks and a nearly empty marble sack was draped limply in his hand.
I timidly forced out some explanation as to how his marbles came to be in my sack. I sat down across from him and dumped my marbles into a pile between my knees. I began selecting some and handing them back to him. His mournful mood instantly turned vicious. He accused me of stealing his marbles. My retort was that I found the marbles strew about in the dirt and no one was around so, by the rule of finders’ keepers, they technically were ripe for the taking. He lunged forward to grab from my pile and I blocked him. I explained that I could have just kept all of the marbles and never said a word; yet I was here to return what was rightfully his. Still, I wasn’t going to allow him to just take anything he wanted from my pile. I selected marbles and he pointed to some, claiming they were his. To be honest, with the varied multitude of designs of Cat’s Eyes, it’s hard to remember which were which. There were a few Boulders and Steelies and Clearies and Quartzies, too. But I knew pretty well which of those were mine and which were his.
I think I actually may have given up some of my own marbles that day, but I considered it a penance for acting with avarice when I knew it to be wrong before I even began. Besides, I was such a lousy player anyway, I probably would have eventually lost them to him in upcoming games.
For me, the lost marbles were a small price to pay for the lesson I learned in honesty. And I realize now that, even at that young age, I had an idea of the difference between right and wrong. Even if I desire to question whether there really is any right or wrong in this world, both of those concepts being a matter of degree and/or individual perspective—what is wrong to one can and often does carry little or no meaning to another—I was still able, at that young age, to discern my own set of values. Taking my friend’s marbles, while trying to act outwardly as if I found them, was not the right thing for me to do.
What’s Right for Me
Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
I agree with that. In every instance in my life, when I was about to make a choice, there has always been that instant—that moment of Eternity—where I had an instant to consider what I was about to do. It may have felt like the briefest of instances, but it was always there.
I hope that Bobby was satisfied that he got his marbles back that day. For me, it was a powerful lesson.
I wish I could tell you that I never again acted with greed, but that is far from the case. My hope is that I’ve gotten better and less greedy and now, in my old age, I take longer moments to pause and consider my desires, what is most important, before I reach out my hand or open my mouth.