Four weeks ago, a man I didn’t know well but had reason to trust based on our past relationship (he was a department head in the Servant Leadership Program where I earned my Master Degree), called and asked to borrow money he would repay a week later, when his bank loan came through… He would drive three hours early the next morning and retrieve the loan, if I could provide it.
Several years ago, it seems, he’d left the university and started up a coffee-roasting business that was initially successful but now, apparently, not so much. The need was urgent, he said, to pay for a piece of German equipment being delivered the next day or risk losing another several months of business…
The story was convoluted and poorly-crafted.
To say the call caught me off guard is an understatement. Why would he call me, a former student living three hours away and a person he barely knew? Why wouldn’t his bank, or family, or friends, or former co-workers help him? All the intuitive bells, whistles, and alarms went off, but in direct conflict to the understanding I’d had of this person as an honorable man devoted to his family, his Catholic faith, and the teachings of servant leadership. How could it not be true?
I said I needed to talk with my husband and I’d let him know the answer that evening.
I shared the story with Phillip that night, fully reviewing my doubts and my perception that this man was in very deep trouble. I knew vital parts of the story had been withheld and I hadn’t probed deeply enough, possibly out of the sense this would embarrass the man, but more honestly because it would have embarrassed me. I knew it was risky, and the sum a large one, for us. I shared my intuition that we shouldn’t lend the money, but then discounted it based on my past experience with the man. How could he possibly lie, steal, or cheat? That wasn’t who I knew him to be. Things like that don’t really happen, not to me. Too Arthur Miller; too over-the-top dramatic. Too preposterous.
Phillip said, “It sounds like he needs help. I don’t believe the ‘German equipment’ story, but maybe it’s for a house payment, something he needs to stay afloat. We have to be willing to lose this money.” We hoped that the man would use it wisely and repay it, as he promised.
A month later, as expected, the man’s check has bounced a few times. He indeed lied (lied in deed?), and willingly took our money with no chance of repayment. Money we’d earned through hard work and saved through small sacrifices, one after the next.
I know this man has a wife with compromised health, a daughter in middle school whom he adores, and a business that must be horribly broken. I know he is desperate. I also know that when he taught the principles of servant leadership, he believed in them, and I cannot fathom what dis-ease has created the discrepancy.
I do not understand why he chose an unethical solution to his problems, or what fears and miseries have caused him to fall so far and turn his life into a Greek tragedy.
The experience has angered and saddened me, of course; it has made me twist and turn with the struggle to forgive someone who entered our lives and betrayed us, and, of course, it has brought forward the many-headed monster of money and its meaning.
Phillip has moved on more positively than I, stuck as I am with the pain I’ve caused by dishonoring my intuition, by allowing the past to dictate my choices in the present. Knowing who someone was doesn’t really help me know who they are today. Why didn’t I work harder to protect our money and to learn more about this man’s troubles? He didn’t want to share and I was too shocked and embarrassed to invite the truth…
And I agonize over the idea that by saying “yes” to this man, I’ve encouraged him to fall even further; I granted a reprieve from the crash to the bottom he needs to hit at some point. I allowed him to dig more deeply into the self-loathing and denial that accompanies betrayal.
I pray for his spirit’s healing. I curse his weaknesses. I regret my generosity and question my motives.
So the journey circles round and I am invited to examine my experience. I have to ask questions about my motives and needs, about why this event has created such turmoil and sadness, and to discover ways to regain my peace and balance.
I have to ask myself why I allowed this person’s story and needs to unseat my balance to begin with, and to take precedence over the peace and welfare of my family. Who did I need to be to him?
It’s too soon to know. I’d love to be able to sum it all up and say something wise. (“Be careful what you believe to be too preposterous to happen to you: it will.”) I’d love to pack it up and store it in the attic of life lessons learned, once and for all time.
It ain’t that easy, however. “Never loan money to family or friends” isn’t always true. Very little is always true, and life doesn’t move along in neat little chapters with tidy beginnings and endings. Except for two breaths, life is always lived “in the middle of things.”
But I do know this: The answers to my questions, and who I become by waiting for them and listening deeply, may provide greater wealth than I lost.
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