A few years ago, I was down on my luck financially. Luckily, I have a great nuclear family so that, although we are all old enough to have our separate lives, someone was able to take me in. But the first few months of this arrangement were unbelievably precarious as I hadn’t even pinned down a job. All the same, we had a neighbor about my age who was in a similar situation & was living with his mom. He was more a blue collar guy; he worked construction jobs contract by contract & then would take several weeks off in between. He was in just such a scenario on the night in question. But, for his lifestyle, this situation was a bit more natural. As such, he was more laid back about it & would often want to go out to drink. While my circumstances left me a mood to join him, my lack of funds made me reluctant to do so. Easy solution. My neighbor–let’s call him, “Joe”–simply declared: “Oh, come on out. I’ve got your first few rounds.”
I’ll have to admit; since Joe was always a bit of a wilder guy than I was so I was often reluctant to hit the town with him simply out of fear of finding myself in some kind of trouble. But that night, I was glad that we went out. I needed the break. I needed a moment to leave all my worries at home for a bit. There was a decent crowd out & I found myself in a variety of interesting conversations. I took Joe up on his offer to cover my first few rounds & eventually ordered three drinks. My bill, with tip, probably came out to around twenty bucks before it was all over.
Well, a couple of years later, I had a U-Haul parked outside & furniture, large cardboard boxes, & a collection of various other worldly possessions strewn across the yard. Things had gotten better for me; not great, but better. I had managed to re-establish a constant employment status. I saw Joe smoking a cigarette as he watched me from across the street. He didn’t say a word but I remembered that I owed him $20. He had lent out a hand when I was down; I would not fail to re-pay him now that I was back up. I walked across the street.
“So you’re moving, huh?” he asked before taking another deep drag from his cigarette.
“Yeah. I guess the neighborhood will be all yours again,” I replied as we both chuckled.
We hadn’t really seen that much of each other over the last several months since that night we decided to hit up happy hour together. I coolly extended my hand out to him with a $20 bill in tow.
“Here you go, man.”
His cigarette arm dropped down low towards his hip as he looked at the Andrew Jackson perplexed. Neither one of us were rolling in dough at the moment; I was surprised he didn’t accept my offering, inquiring instead, “What’s this?”
“Way back when, before I had even found a job in town, we went out to the bar that time. I didn’t have any money & you bought me three rounds anyway. I never forgot,” I replied as I extended the greenback out to him again. Joe looked at me for a moment & after a period of silence, you said, “No man. Keep it. I was never looking for you to pay me back.”
I majored in English in college. Majoring in English is a lot like major in philosophy; you learn to analyze your life experiences in every & any way that doesn’t involve numbers or hard science. In other words, I spend a great deal of time reflecting. I’m pretty good at it. But I have a sister who majored in both English & psychology & then went on to graduate school; & I think she may even be better than I am at it. I bring her up because she often reflects on the motivation behind the interactions she experiences within the family as well as her inner circle. She told me once that she used to do the right thing because she believed people would return the favor. She’d loan someone her car or listen to a friend’s problem because she knew someday the tables would turn & she would need these same people to do the same for her. But one day, she told me she realized what a flawed world view that was. It wasn’t flawed from a moral standpoint, just a practical one. People rarely returned the favor!
So one day while she sat on the couch in one of her reflecting moods, she told me: “Don’t help someone because you want them to owe you later on. Don’t do anything nice because you expect any kind of reward down the road. If you do, you’ll be waiting forever. Just help people; just be kind because it’s the right thing to do. If you allow yourself to be motivated by anything else, you’re going to be disappointed in life.”
I also have a brother who’s an unconfirmed genius. I say unconfirmed because he’s not a member of Mensa & no professional has ever assessed him. It doesn’t matter. He’s a genius–a real numbers & science guy. He’s never had to move in with family because of “hard times.” While the world was going gah-gah over Google, I’d just ask my smart brother. He’d frequently respond faster than Google did anyway! Blame it on the WI-FI. Anyway, my aforementioned sister went through a divorce a few years back. She stayed on good terms with her ex-husband; so much so that when her ex-husband had to move, she sent me over to help him. I didn’t think anything of it. Her ex-husband is a nice guy & I like lifting things anyway; I actually work in the weight room of a health club, in part because of the free membership. Afterwards, sister’s ex-hubby took me out to my favorite pizzeria & treated me to a fabulous feast.
Not long afterwards, I told my genius brother about my latest adventure in lifting heavy objects & the memorable feast that ensued. His response surprised me a bit. “That sounds like a lot of work. How much did he pay you?” he asked.
“Pay me?” I asked. “Well, he bought me pizza. Two different kinds even! I had so much I had to take some home.”
“Just pizza?” my intelligent brother inquired. “It seems for that amount of effort & time that he should have paid you.”
Now this brother of mine is not only smart but kind-hearted too. When I moved into my first apartment after college, he drove from his home two hours away & help me get moved in, assemble furniture, & the like. He never asked for anything & truthfully, I never offered. I just considered what I had done for my sister’s ex-husband something along the lines of what my brother had done for me.
“Three rounds,” I thought to myself while listening to today’s sermon. Not everything is about dollars & cents; or even dollars & sense. Sometimes, we just do what we do because it seems right.
Maybe more people just adopt the attitude, “No. Keep your twenty.” Then again, maybe I should go to Church more often!