Terms of Endearment
I can easily come up with dozens of little kindnesses that I’ve experienced lately. If I go back further, I can come up with hundreds. Maybe thousands in my whole lifetime, which is about 2/3 of a century now. I’m grateful for those kindnesses and also grateful that I remember them. I’d hate to let a kindness be forgotten.
But I am now thinking of kindnesses that I myself have offered, and whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, I seem to have forgotten most of them.
Maybe it is a virtue to pay a kindness and let it go.
But what if it is because I have been stingy with my own kindnesses?
I really hope not. I know I pay a lot of compliments. And not just lip service – I try to recognize excellence – to notice and call it out.
I tell people when I like their shoes, or when they have a great idea, or when their kids are fun to be around. I tell loved ones I like how they smell when I hug them – because I do.
I try to be considerate. I hold the door for people. I let people cut in line at the checkout – or change lanes on the road. I pick up trash.
And when I observe someone being nice to other people, I tell them that they made my day better too. Yesterday I was in the drug store and an old lady (probably my age) was shopping with a teenager. And the kid said, “I’ll put it back. It’s too much money for eye shadow, Grandma.” The lady said, “I don’t think it’s expensive if you like it.”So I went up to them and said to the woman, “That’s a really nice thing to say.”
So I guess I do a little to contribute to the kindness in the world.
But I think I could do better.
I need to be a little bigger in my kindness.
I’m trying. I joined my community’s preservation and beautification organization – and I helped with their website, and I planted daffodils this fall, and sorted returnables for their recycling program. Not much really, but it’s a start.
I think maybe I am a little cautious because the biggest favor I ever did someone backfired. And I was hurt.
Years ago I had a very dear friend, who I will call Anna. We met at work, and after both of us moved on to other jobs, we stayed close. We went to the movies together, and out dancing, and shopping. We had dinner once a week. We used to call our dinners, “My Dinner With Andre” dinners, since we had long, crazy, wonderful conversations. Anna drove over to my place late one night when my boyfriend broke up with me so I would have someone to cry with. And I took her to the hospital when she needed outpatient surgery.
We had been friends for about ten years when Anna called me early one Saturday and asked me to meet her for breakfast. Over coffee she told me that she had gotten herself into serious financial difficulties, including pressure from the IRS. I loved this woman. So I bailed her out. I loaned her enough money to pay off her tax debt, her other past due bills, and the next month’s rent.
But then the worst thing happened. And it wasn’t that Anna didn’t pay me back. It was that she dropped out of my life. She made excuses why she couldn’t meet for dinner, or see a movie. After a while she didn’t even answer my phone calls.
I felt horrible. I thought at the time – and still do – that she couldn’t pay me back and that was embarrassing for her. And so she couldn’t face me.
I did finally hear from her years later. Out of the blue, she phoned me. Said she was sorry she had stayed away and wanted to see me. I met her at a diner for lunch. She was the same sweet woman I had cared so much about. She was also broke again and asked me for money. I gave her everything I had in my wallet and went home. I never saw her again.
It broke my heart.
I have been reflecting on this whole experience lately, as I have been thinking so much about Kindness and being a good human being.
But the moral of this story is not ‘Don’t lend money to a friend.’
For I would give Anna the money again.
The loss of money was not meaningful, and besides, I didn’t lose it. I used it to give respite – however short that respite may have been – to a friend when she needed it. It wasn’t the loss of money. It was the loss of friendship.
There are lots of good reasons why friendships end, but money should not be one of those reasons.
And I don’t blame Anna either. Whatever hardships – whatever demons – she was experiencing – who am I to judge?
My mistake – and it was MINE – was that I did not discuss the terms.
Not the terms of the loan.
The terms of our friendship.
The Terms of Endearment.
For here is what I should have said:
“Anna, this money is a gift to you because you are my friend and I want to help you. If someday you can return this gift to me, I would accept it with love. We will always be friends, regardless. I’ll call you and you’ll call me, and we will have breakfast and go to the movies and have great intriguing conversations. Our friendship is a gift. It is not on loan.”