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We receive, for free, much more than we can ever give back.
In our apartment with mom and brother Stephen, the massive tin pot of tapioca pudding on the stove, once chilled, was my favorite dessert–free. The school lunches of egg salad on Wonder bread she used to make–free. The blue pants, white shirt and logoed blue tie I had to wear to wear to church each morn, the elementary school, all free. Growing up, I got everything for free, until age 15, when I sold magazines door-to-door all over Central Jersey. Then I had things I bought with “my money,” only for myself, which somehow meant much more.
An hour ago, 5:48 am at the squawk box at the new Dunkin Donuts just a mile from my house, I said, “Good morning my friend,” replying to her sweet voice asking for my order. “Oh, good morning to you… please pull up.” She knew my order by heart, and gave me such a good feeling to be known by just the sound of my voice. I pull up holding out my credit card, and Moha holds out my medium regular coffee… but doesn’t take my card. “That’s free, for you, my customer.” And of course I say “Oh no, Oh thanks so much!” and pull away saying aloud, “You’ve got to be kidding. How nice!”
This is not the first free thing she’s given me, completely unasked. Yesterday, for Sunday School when I ordered 50 munchkins for the kids, my girlfriend-clerk asked, “You? Why munchkins?” And I told her and she said, “How nice, that’ll be half price.” So I left the 5 dollars as part tip too. Once again, I couldn’t believe how nice that was.
And now I had yet another reason for liking my Egyptian-American friends at this Dunkin, and people in general.
I think of other things we get “for free,” like my Catholic grammar school, Ewing High, and even my California junior college education, all for free. In those years I never realized my parents’ property taxes, and the property taxes of thousands of other homeowners, paid for my education. I shudder now as an adult to wonder how my parents paid for that, and food, and clothing, and Christmas and birthday presents, and everything else we all needed.
Now, as I pay my own property taxes for schools, and sales taxes for social programs, state and Federal income taxes, and gasoline taxes for highways and others, I see that everything which exists for me, for my family’s ease and comfort, was mostly paid for by others, by society. I can’t help but think, at least I can do my part, too.
We hope our leaders do their part, to make our lives better and not miserable as too many are, not just in other countries, but here in America as well. Free? Earning goodwill, and peace and security where I live, and in America, and in the world, is not free. It requires some measure of wealth, enough to support a family and a home and to meaningfully contribute to the society we all live in and depend on.
The Baha’i teachings have a unique and fascinating viewpoint on acquiring and using material wealth. This passage from Baha’u’llah, for example, praises those who earn their living and then devote themselves to giving back:
…man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty. Having attained the stage of fulfilment and reached his maturity, man standeth in need of wealth, and such wealth as he acquireth through crafts or professions is commendable and praiseworthy in the estimation of men of wisdom, and especially in the eyes of servants who dedicate themselves to the education of the world and to the edification of its peoples. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 34.
This wonderful practice of giving back doesn’t have to be monetary–it also takes doing our part, being kind to all others, caring a little bit or a lot, and helping where we can. When we focus on the oneness of humanity, it’s not that difficult, because we’re actually related to every other person we meet.