I start my meditation with a true story that will serve as a parable. On his 21st birthday, the nature writer Francis Thompson was presented by his father with a bill for all the expenses of his upbringing including the costs of his birth and delivery. Francis paid the bill, but he never spoke to his father again. ...
We are immediately repelled by this story, yet at the same time, we have to concede a strange kind of justice to it. There is no doubt that the father was correct to point out to his son the obligation that he had, but in quantifying that obligation, he converted it into a debt, for that is the difference between an obligation and a debt: an obligation becomes a debt when you can put a number on it. “I owe you one” is an obligation; “I owe somebody $10″ is a debt. Obligations bind people together even after they have been “paid.” But debts bind us only for as long as the debt exists. The relationship dies on payment of the debt. We might say that obligations bind us together, while debts drive us apart. By quantifying the obligation, Thompson’s father offered him the opportunity to dissolve it, to discharge it, and in doing so to end their relationship; his son took the offer and was no longer his son.
I never thought of the difference between a debt and obligation in these terms, but in contemplating it this morning, I have found it to be true. I am so happy to be involved in so many obligations (one way or the other) among my friends and in our rural community.
Oremus pro invicem!