Tuesday, August 1, 2017

We Reap What We Sow

Please bear with me as I digress from the normal RPG content that graces this blog, in favor of a post that I just felt like I needed to write.

Let me go back a few years to a time when, as a freelance designer, I spent a good portion of my day working consistently with my laptop at a specific Starbucks location. When you spend that much time at a specific Starbucks, you get to know the other regulars pretty well. Among the folks I met there were a pair of brothers, both in their 60s. One brother owned some oil properties that provided some ongoing (albeit minor) income, as well as bought/refurbished/sold old Martin guitars and old Mercedes diesels. The other brother was a little older, not in great health, smoked pretty heavily, and was generally supported by his younger brother.

I knew these two moderately well (I knew the older one much better), but they were really just very familiar acquaintances, not really friends. Apart from Starbucks coffee and sandwiches, we never shared a meal or had a drink together. We only ever saw each other at the coffee shop.

The older brother died suddenly, and the younger brother was in need of some financial assistance to cover the unexpected costs of his brother's burial (there was no funeral proper). He had reached out to me (and I assume several others) to lend him a couple of hundred dollars, which grew to $500 by the time he had finished explaining his situation. He gave me a post-dated check in return. He told me that he would have oil revenues at the first of the month and would be able to cash the check then. I had a little money to spare (very little at the time), and I really didn't know the younger brother all that well, but I really liked the older brother and wanted to make sure that his burial arrangements happened. So I wrote the check.

I went to his bank just a few days after the 1st to try to cash the check, but there were no funds. As I understood it, the account was set up specifically to receive the oil income, then divert to his normal account, so I'm sure all the funds (that may have been there) were already diverted to another account.

The following month, I kept my regular Starbucks schedule, and for as regular as he had been, I didn't see him at all. So I tried again to cash the check the following month. Again, insufficient funds.

The one thing I cannot explain to you is how angry I got. I left messages on his voice mail--they went unreturned. I left angrier messages, again unreturned. I seethed. I felt genuinely toxic with hate--absolute hate. I shared my story with others and it just filled me with more hatred. I have never in my life felt that kind of disdain for a human being... and I did not like it. I did not like what it was doing to me. I did not like the way it made me feel.

I realized that my feelings weren't doing anything to make the situation better, so I decided I had to let it go.

I'm not saying what he did wasn't shitty... and that at least a phone call to explain would have been nice... but I also realized that what I was doing wasn't making anything better, and it was only breeding more contempt in the world. And we all know that's one thing the world just doesn't need right now.

I cannot explain to you how good it felt it to just be done with the toxicity I was creating. It was me who sowed the anger. It was me who sowed the hatred. It was me that sowed the ground that made me feel progressively shittier and shittier.

I did try one more time to cash the check (literally on the last day the check was going to be good, per its date). Miraculously, it cleared, and the teller gave me $500 in cash. In return, you're probably not going to believe this, but it's absolutely true... I only kept $300 and put the other $200 back into his account. I was trying to put myself in his place... I wasn't sure what he needed, but the $300 was all I needed. Besides, $200 is how much I would have been happy to donate for the older brother's burial (without return) if the younger brother had asked for such a contribution in the first place. I also thought of the $200 as penance for my deadly sin of wrath.

Since I let that contempt go, I have never again been perturbed even in the slightest by the story, even as I recount it now.

Yes, there are shitty people in this world, who do shitty things. But if we're shitty in return, how does that help?

My wife used to teach middle school religion at a Catholic school, and above the door insider her room, so that the kids could see it when they exited the room and went into the world, there was a sign that read, "Who does it serve when I ______?"

Before you throw your contempt and disdain out into the world for people to commiserate with, ask yourself, "Who does it serve when I ______?" And, then, if the answer is "my own hatred or ego," maybe there's a better way to frame it.

What do you think would have happened if I reached out to the younger brother on one of those voice messages and instead said, "Hey, man, I know that it's probably still a tough time, and there's no pressure on my end, but I thought it my be good if we could touch base so we know things are all still good."

Unfortunately, I'll never know because it was too late to unsow the contempt I'd already sown.

To this day, I have not seen the younger brother again.