The chai-wallah's debt
Friday's 100-word story (on debts, regrets, and forgiveness)
The chai-wallah’s debt
Shri sipped the chai. He was on the train to his ailing mother. Suddenly the train started moving. The chai-wallah outside yelled, “Two rupees!”
Inside, Shri fought to free his gnarly wallet from a loose pocket seam. He ripped out a note, throwing it out the window. The chai-wallah caught it, just as they both realized it was 2000 rupees! Shri slapped his forehead.
Cursing, he reached his mother’s village — too late. People at her door were reminiscing her prescient wisdom. She’d left him a letter that began, “Son, give without regret. The universe returns tenfold…” and 20,000 rupees.
[chai-wallah = tea vendor, a common sight at train stations all over India, note = currency note or bill]
What debts can we forget? And how?
Imagine if Shri could think about all the ways in which the chai-wallah could use the 2000 rupees — perhaps to fund his kids’ education, his wife’s delayed treatment or finally buy a little tea stall that could reverse the course of generational poverty for his family? And if such imaginings could free Shri of his resentment at having lost the additional Rs. 1198? Instead leave him gratified that he contributed - albeit, unintended - to some benevolence in this unfeeling universe? Similarly, what debts, resentments or grudges could each of us forgive?
I’m as fallible as they come. But recent reminders — from deaths untimely and of those who lived full lives — of how really short life is, deepen the need for giving up anger born of missed/misplaced expectation, and instead just doing our bit with grace.
That doesn’t mean putting up with toxic people or allowing ourselves to be used. But to give up thinking that we are owed for xyz, and stewing, waiting to be made whole. It’s the recipe for bitterness, for cultivating thanklessness for life’s other graces, and for not being ready even when our debtors are ready to pay up.
Besides, holding a grudge is a poison that erodes our own capaciousness for happiness. Because forgiveness — which, again, is not the same as allowing others to walk all over us — is a radical act in freeing ourselves.
A few quotes to help us, should any of us find ourselves at such crossroads:
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. --Lewis B. Smedes
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. --Martin Luther King, Jr.
Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much. --Oscar Wilde
That final one for when we must have the last laugh.
Maybe we need a ritual to make the letting go real so here’s one: Jot down a list of all the debts and grudges you can’t get past on a piece of paper. Then destroy the list, flush it, bury it or perhaps even set it on fire (safely, please)! Or a different ritual that can help you embody such a worthy renunciation.
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