A fast-talking man in a white cowboy hat, a scruffy beard and a southern accent looks into a camera and starts sounding off about the value of human life
He speaks directly to the viewer, as if they are sitting across from him and he is looking into their eyes.
“There’s a lot of you out there today who are dealing with issues of self-worth,” he says. “You don’t feel very good about yourself, simply because of the things you’ve been through, things that you’ve done and the things that have been done to you.”
He holds up a $20 bill and asks if the viewer would take it if he offered it.
“Chances are, you would,” he says. “But before I give it to you, I gotta offer a warning, because while this $20 bill could be used for a lot of good, chances are it’s seen a lot of bad,”
If this $20 bill could think and had a mind, it might have a bad conscience, the fast-talking man says. He shares a list of bad things the bill could have been used for.
Maybe it’s been used to do drugs or buy drugs. Maybe a drug deal went bad and somebody died over this. In fact, maybe it was used to fund a terrorist organization or to buy a prostitute.
“Any number of things could have been done with this $20 bill,” he says, pushing it toward the camera again.
“Do you still want it? Of course you do, because no matter what’s been done to it or with it, it’s still worth 20 bucks.”
Then the fast-talking man tears the bill in a couple of places.
“Maybe I can take it today and rip it and scar it and put marks on it that are just simply unfair and unsightly,” he says.
“Still want it? Of course you do, because an authority higher than us gave it its value and nothing can take it away.
“Same with you. No matter what you’ve been through, no matter what you’ve done, you still have worth. It’s built into you and you need to remember that.”
The fast-talking man says there are things he wishes he could go back in time and “redo, undo and just never do at all.
“But I can’t. And even though I’m reminded every day by many folks and even by my own conscience and heart that I did them, I still have to remind myself that something with greater authority than me and even bigger than my own actions, gave me a self-worth.”
The implication here is that human lives have worth because God has decided they do. That’s a beautiful idea. I believe it most of the time and I hope it’s true.
But whether you believe in God or not, there is truth in what the fast-talking man says.
We have all used our lives for good and for bad. We have all been beaten down and ripped up and scarred.
We have all done things we wish we could redo, undo and never do at all. But we have inherent value.
We are worth something, and no matter what we have done, there is the possibility of redemption—hopefully from God, but certainly in the way we conduct ourselves now and as we move forward.
Every life that was bad in the past can be good in the future. We can still make something out of what’s left of it. And as we go, we might as well share our stories.
Lessons spring from every good decision and from every bad one. This is how we learn what is true about the world, about ourselves, about other people.
We ought to share those lessons so others don’t repeat our mistakes, so their lives can be enriched by the wisdom we accrue.
“It is only by sharing our stories, by being strong enough to take a risk—both in the telling and in the asking—that we make it possible to know, recognize and understand each other,” Richard Wagamese wrote in One Story, One Song.
Later in the book, he quotes Thoreau: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and they go to the grave with the song still in them.”
So sing, or write, or speak. Your life has value. It is worth something, and so are the stories, thoughts, insights and jokes you feel compelled to share.
Share them with us, teach us, enrich us. Help us get through the wonderful, miserable journey that lies ahead.
We won’t be able to make it on our own.