Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Several weeks ago a man entered a convenience store in Miami and attempted to make a purchase using an unusual barter. Fernando Aguilera had a hankering for beer. His lack of cash produced a creative solution.

Aguilera went to a local park and trapped and caught a four-foot alligator. He attempted to use his “treasure” in exchange for a 12-pack. Much to Aguilera’s surprise, the effort resulted in a brush with the law rather than the cold liquid refreshment he had anticipated.

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The store clerk called authorities. Police ticketed Aguilera. He now faces up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. It is illegal to trap or trade alligators in the state of Florida.

It’s easy to laugh this incident off as just another wacky Florida story. Its larger implications, however, are no laughing matter.

Many years ago a Holocaust survivor told me a poignant story. She was being held in a concentration camp. Another woman in the camp, who had sewn diamonds into the hem of her dress, tried to barter the gems for a crust of bread for her hungry child. The guards laughed and ripped the stones from her hand. The child starved to death.

What is valuable and how does it factor in our lives? The price of real estate, of gold and silver, of stocks and bonds, goes up and down. Interest on investments fluctuates. The commodity market rises and falls. The value of our dollar wavers.

It’s human nature to think our prized possessions can buy us what we want or need. We amass things in hopes that it will ensure our safety. Unfortunately, whether diamonds or gators, cash or jewels, the assumption is not always true. The realization of this is a truly sobering fact of life.

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