Could there be any value to an investment you perceive as never offering a return? The question unexpectedly flowed through my mind like the tiny ripples which move across a pond and never seem to arrive at their destination, as my girlfriend and I walked out of the bank.
While getting into the car, she remarked, “I was surprised you actually put that money in your account. I thought you would spend it right away.”
“Well,” I hesitated, “it was an unexpected refund check. Putting it in my account will at least let it grow a little: it’s an investment.”
Satisfied, she nodded, and we pulled out of the parking lot. But the determined drive home, a course of perpetual motion, seemed a strange prelude to the year I would soon lead, especially when I overestimated my speed while pulling into the garage and made abrupt contact with the far wall.
I had accepted a higher position in my company and, despite its increased demands, maintained my personal philosophy of always helping my colleagues when my time, talents, and abilities were called upon, regardless of whether they were covered by my job description or pay scale.
One of my employees was dealt a particularly challenging hand: suffering a personal loss earlier in the year and then a car accident a few months later, he had erroneously identified alcohol as his temporary savior, and I volunteered to help, donating countless hours to support him however I could.
When a new procedure was implemented, several employees exhibited difficulty in understanding, and adapting to, it. Although it was not within my jurisdiction, I nevertheless devised short training modules and conducted several impromptu classes during time which was otherwise devoted to lunch.
Because I had spent several years developing writing skills, and because I had apparently earned a reputation for the craft, many often approached me to compose needed resumes and other correspondence for them—none of which had any connection to my function. In any case, everything I gave, I did so freely.
My professional path led to a virtual collision—with reality–at the end of the year, however, when my company was acquired by another, and cost-reduction synergies immediately targeted the redundant management teams. I, naturally, belonged to one of them.
The day after my layoff letter became effective, I woke with no where to go. Although concerns about unemployment compensation and my future direction rippled through my mind, I was at least secure in the foundation of loyal friends I had created over the years. Now, with my own fall, it was conceivable that I would need them for support.
Soon missing the professional life I had led for two decades and the many people I had met during it, I began to contact them to see how they themselves were getting along. Honestly, I thought they would already have done the same for me.
I telephoned, but they were never home. I left messages on their answering machines. They never returned them. I sent emails, inquiring about their latest endeavors. But my in-box never carried their names. Perhaps my approach was wrong, I thought: instead of contacting each one on an individual basis, maybe I should appeal to the collective spirit we had had and send a common invitation to all so that we could get-together, reminisce, and have a few laughs.
I proposed a dinner on a certain date and requested a response so that I could gauge how many would attend it. But, as that date approached, it became apparent that none would. I would have been happy, mind you, with a “sorry, can’t make it,” but I did not even receive that—only silence—to be interpreted.
Confused, frustrated, and hurt, I called my girlfriend, who had more of a philosophical and religious penchant than I, that evening, and we agreed to meet for coffee the following day. “I have something I really need to talk about,” I preluded.
“I don’t understand it!” I exclaimed, as we sat down at the table. “I gave so much and so freely to all those people! I gave my time and talents. Yet, not one of them seems to remember what I did for them. It’s as if they used me for the moment—for whatever they could get out of me—and when it was over, they dropped me like I never existed. I feel as if I have no use or value. It was all take!”
She hesitated, stirring her coffee, and then asked, “Why, then, did you do all those things for them?”
“Well-well,” I started, sipping my beverage, “because I cared about them—because I wanted to help them—because I knew I had talents they didn’t, but needed—because these talents came very easily and naturally to me—because it took no effort whatsoever to use them…”
Pausing until I had calmed down, she responded, “We all seek, whether we are aware of it or not, to be most like the One Who created us. After all, who else could we be like? And it seems like you did just that. You cared. You helped. You gave. And you gave freely. You used the very talents He gave you to use. Whether you know it or not, you learned more than any of those people ever will. You are actually the winner. You evolved to the point where you acted the most like your Source. And, like Him, you gave without ever expecting to get anything in return.”
Only slightly mollified, I countered, “But that’s where you’re wrong. That’s where God and I are different. I didn’t get anything in return, but I expected to!”
She paused once more, putting her stirrer on a napkin. “Maybe you still will,” she suggested.
“Maybe I still will?” I yelled. “I called those people! I left messages! I wrote to them! I sent them invitations! Not one of them even answered me! What kind of thanks or reward is that?”
“Do you remember when you deposited that refund check in your bank account last year and said it was an investment?”
“Ye-eah,” I hesitated, not understanding the connection, “but I also got a return on it—later on.”
“Maybe you still will,” her promising voice delivered.
“Still will!” I spat. “Do you know how many months it’s been since I’ve seen those people—and none of them have even responded to me. What kind of time are we talking about?”
Looking at me with empathetic eyes, she quietly stated, “Like the money you put in the bank with the intention of earning interest on it, your life is also an investment. The more you give, the more you will get back.”
“But, as you can see,” I disagreed, “that’s not true. If it is, then when will I receive my so-called ‘reward’ for the good I did?”
And in the most solemn voice I have ever heard her use, she whispered, “No one ever said it had to be in this life.”
Instinctively, I looked toward the sky.