February 6, 2013
Vol: 20 No: 6

Dr. Wes

Life doesn’t owe you anything, but sometimes it will pay you back, with interest

By Dr. Wes Browning

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A big blank page yawns before me this Friday pre-Superbowl morning, and once again I look to Cindy Holly, my Muse, Muse of Other, muse of few words, to help me fill it. By the way, Cindy is and has always been a winter creature, born every Feb. 2 and every overcast day. So I tell her Happy Birthday. She asks me how I’m feeling. I say I’m missing something.

“Is it something you needed, or something you wanted? Something you lost, or something you never had? Something you owned, or something that owned you? Find what sort of something it is.”

And then what?

“You should write while you look.”

Oh, sure, that’s the trick.

I guess the something I’m missing is an idea about owning, or ownership, or what’s owed me. That’s it. It’s what’s owed me.

People say, “no one owes you a life.” Well, no, not in the sense of owing me happiness and satisfaction. But, literally, a life? They owe me to let me continue the one I was started on.

People say, “no one owes you a living.” But in this world, under the rules presented me, most livings are prepackaged and off-the-shelf, and most of the exceptions are illegal. This, the best of all economic systems, says if I don’t have capital I should get a job. But I’m owed the life I was started on, and I can’t keep on it without one of those jobs. So, therefore, I’m owed a job, or this economy broke its promise to be best.

I’m owed a job that pays enough to live on, or I’m owed a better economic system. If necessary we can start all over living in tents and eating berries and mice if capitalism can’t let us keep living. It’s not worth having all of this if people can’t survive it.

I had a friend, I’ll call him Mark, who lost his job because of a foolish outburst of temper. A few months later I found him homeless and reduced to begging. He asked me to help him buy food. Unlike most panhandlers, I knew him, so I knew he meant it when he said he was going to buy a sandwich. So I gave him the full amount he needed: $3.

Over the course of that month, he kept finding me and asking for help. I was having an exceptionally good month. I was well off, so I helped him each time with $3, always reminding him that my money wouldn’t last forever, and he was going to have to find another way to get by eventually. He said he would. Altogether I believe I doled out $60. Then I stopped seeing Mark for another couple of months. I was just getting worried about his welfare when he showed up again.

He was smiling. He was cleaned up and said he had a new job. And he handed me $3. He asked when he could see me again. The next time we met, he gave me $3. The next time after that, he gave me $3. He told me he would keep doing it until I felt sure that I had all my money back. So I stopped him at $60. It took about a month, the same time it took to hand the money the other direction.

Who owed what in that story?

The whole time Mark was returning the money I felt grateful, but I didn’t feel owed anything. He didn’t have to return it, as far as I was concerned.

When I was giving Mark the $60 in $3 increments, I felt someone had to do it, because he was the world’s worst panhandler, and he would starve for sure without help.

And when he was returning the money, Mark made it very clear I owed it to him to take it. Every $3 I accepted helped him restore his balance, and let him continue in the life he’d been started on.

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