It was the kind of perfect, cloud-free, summer day the beaches of Maine sometimes unveil like a shy bride in the middle of the August doldroms. There was a foretaste of autumn in the deep blue of the sky, the white diamond sun making the sand blaze with something more like gladness than heat.
12-year-old Richie kicked up puffs of sand as he sprinted toward the icy black ocean, veering away after a brief splash in the shallows. Then he slowed to a beach-combers' pace and traipsed along the seaweed that marked the tide's highest mark.
On Maine beaches, the most sought-after prize in those days was a sand dollar, the polished gray shell of a creature that clings in life to craggy rocks revealed amid the crashing surf at low tide. Often, Richie had gleefully bent over the edge of one peering from the sand, only to pull up a fragment -- another victim of the murmuring waves.
So today, he approached the coin-shaped object in his path with healthy skepticism. Even seeing what looked like a whole sand dollar from above, Richie kept his hopes in check, knowing the bottom could be smashed or chipped.
He carefully picked up his prize and turned it over. Miraculously, it was intact! Smiling broadly, Richie skipped a few paces, then started meandering toward a nearby inlet.
Ahead of him he could see two more beach-combers -- a mother and son perhaps -- studiously examining the water's edge. As he drew closer he could hear the boy, who looked to be 5 or 6.
"We've never going to find one," the boy said. "And it's our last day."
"We just have to be patient and keep looking," the woman said. "There just aren't as many sand dollars as there used to be when I was a girl."
Richie looked at the boy's face and had a funny thought -- well, funny to him anyway. He thought maybe that boy would appreciate his sand dollar more than Richie would himself. Then he had an even funnier thought -- that the boy would appreciate it the most if he found it himself.
Richie continued walking until he was well past the pair, then started jogging up into the deep sand near the shingled beach houses well above the water line. He turned back, still jogging, until he was again well ahead of the boy and his mom, then cruised back to the water.
It was pretty easy to position the sand dollar -- just half of it showing -- in the boy's path. Then Richie accelerated back to the dunes to watch.
In a few minutes, he was rewarded by the boy's exultant shout and saw him waving the sand dollar for his equally thrilled mother to admire.
Years went by, and Richie received many awards -- from smiley faces on papers to cash bonuses at work to appreciative plaques from charitable organizations.
The papers were long gone; the cash long spent. The plaques gathered dust in his closet. But he could still count on the memory of that long ago day in Maine to bring a smile to his lips and, perhaps, to God's as well.
For in that one pristine moment, Richie had risen above himself. He'd resisted the urge to keep the sand dollar. He'd resisted the urge to present the sand dollar to the boy and bask in his thanks. And to this day, he'd resisted telling anyone -- even his own mother -- about the incident.
"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them," the Bible warns in Matthew 6:1-4.
When we give to the needy, or pray, or fast, we shouldn't be seeking recognition from men, but from God.
"... Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."