I wasn’t excited about turning 80. My younger daughter had asked if I wanted an 80th-birthday party, but I didn’t want a light shining on me as I marked this milestone. I wondered what I could do instead.
A six-decade-old memory popped into my head. In 1957, around the time my friends and I were turning 21, one of them did something that surprised me: She gave her mother 21 roses. Rather than wait for a present, she gave one. At that age, I’d never thought about doing something like that. I was so impressed.
That started me thinking. What could I give? Well, I’m turning 80. I’ll give $80. But to how many people? I briefly considered giving $80 apiece to 80 friends and relatives, but it seemed like a lot of money — cash I could use instead to treat myself to an overseas trip. Another concern: I knew I wanted to give the money in person, not just mail it. Could I manage that 80 times in one year? I wasn’t sure.
Finally, when I couldn’t stop thinking about the logistics of hand-delivering gifts to people in so many places, I knew I had come to a decision. I bought 80 blue envelopes. In each I put four $20 bills; a self-addressed, stamped postcard; and a note asking people, in honor of my birthday, to give the money to anyone they chose. “Find someone who least expects it,” I wrote. “Then write … and tell me about your experience. Let’s spread a small bit of joy!!”
The weekend of my 80th birthday, I started handing out my blue envelopes to family members and friends who were in town for the wedding of one of my grandsons. Over the next year, I hand-delivered 78 envelopes to people ages 9 to 90. (The last two I mailed.)
As postcards arrived, two things stood out. The first was the joy people experienced when giving in person. Many sent me heartfelt letters, some with photos of the receiver. The second was the rapport created when givers explained the source of the money to recipients. It was as if they were teaming up to help an 80-year-old lady celebrate her birthday.