Ask for the Moon and Get It

Ask for the Moon and Get It

From A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Ask for the Moon and Get It

When you give of yourself, you receive more than you give.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

As I grew up and went into business, I always had a soft spot for kids without bikes. When I was in my 20s, I lived next door to a little boy that I liked. And, wouldn’t you know, his parents couldn’t afford to buy him a bike. So one Saturday, I went to the local hardware store and blew half a paycheck, $25.00 for a surprise. You should have seen that kid jump up and down—he was my friend for life. But this is not the end of the story.

Over the years, as I saved money and became affluent, I gave away bike after bike—about 100 in all, up to the year 1977.

Then in 1977, I was looking for a way to brighten the lives of underprivileged children in Minneapolis. I decided to throw a Christmas party for them—a gala get-together for more than 1,000 impoverished kids of all races who never owned a bike. I would serve them refreshments in a large auditorium, I would tell them they could succeed, as I had. I would give them silver dollars as symbols of a richer future. And I would give them bicycles—a shiny new bike for each and every kid.

My assistants and I hid the bikes behind a gigantic curtain. Then when the celebration reached a climax, the curtain went up. You should have heard the gasps, the shouts, the cheers, the gleeful screaming as those kids gazed upon 1,050 brand-spanking-new two-wheelers neatly parked in rows. Then they scrambled toward the bikes, touching them, sitting on them, riding them around joyfully.

Like Martin Luther King Jr., I, too, have a dream. I’d like to give another bicycle party before I die—this one somewhere in the Middle East. I’d invite children from Israel, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and other countries in that eye-for-an-eye region that breeds so much distrust and terrorism. There will be gifts, games and a bicycle for each child; but the biggest gift will be a demonstration of youthful brotherhood. The relationship between young Jews and young Arabs will determine the kind of Middle East that emerges in the next generation.

Such a party would involve sensitive negotiations and would be very difficult to stage without incident. I’ll have to do a lot of pushing and a lot of asking to pull it off, but I’m more than willing. In fact, I’m determined.

Why? Because I know what it’s like to grow up in a world of poverty, distrust, prejudice and pain.

One time I asked for a job shining shoes and was turned away. I was nine when the exclusive Miscowaubik Club was looking for a boy to shine shoes at a nickel a pair. My mother dressed me in my best clothes. I remember my dad even dressed up before taking me there. My father drove me in his horse-drawn junk wagon. I remember even now how nervous I was sitting beside him on the high, wooden seat. We didn’t talk much and I’ve often wondered if he was quiet that day because he suspected what might happen when I knocked on the door of the club. Its members were the wealthiest families in town, the captains and lieutenants of the Calumet and Hecia Consolidated Copper Mining Company. Even the name of the company awed and intimidated me.

As I sat on the wooden seat beside my father, jostling up and down, I saw the Miscowaubik Club come into view. It was imposing and yet elegant. My father waited while I walked to the big front door; I remember the brass handle on it. With beating heart and high hopes, I knocked. The door opened, and a well-dressed man, probably the manager, peered down at me. He didn’t invite me in. He just asked what I wanted. I said, “My name is Percy Ross, and I’ve heard you need someone to shine shoes.” He replied coolly, “We don’t need boys like you.”

The words hit me like a ton of bricks. Dazed, I walked back to the horse and wagon. My father was so quiet, so very quiet. I didn’t know what to think at the time. Why was I turned away? Maybe it was because I was Jewish. Maybe it was because I was from the other side of the tracks: painted in large letters on the side of my father’s wagon were the words WM. ROSS—JUNK DEALER.

On the ride home, the horse’s hooves hit the street like hammers on my soul. I asked my father, “Why didn’t he let me in the door? What kind of boy am I?” My father didn’t have any answers. I remember I cried all the way home.

I have gotten over many disappointments, rebuffs and injuries in my life, but the wound I received that day still hurts. It is this wound that sparked the dream of having a bicycle party in the Middle East.

I’m going to give that party for the hope, however faint, of a world without hate, fear, oppression or resignation. I think it can make a difference.

Percy Ross

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