Paying It Forward
Life is a journey enriched by the people you share it with.
Over the course of this journey, you’ve encountered many people who have worked hard and gone beyond expectations to support you.
They’ve been a great source of pleasure, celebrated your triumphs, and stood by you in times of distress.
From time to time, they’ve even sacrificed their interests to do you a favor or two.
How, then, will you return their generosity and affection?
Sometimes, life will have moved on and you can’t pay them back, even if you want to.
The only way to return people’s favors is through your own social roles—as a parent, spouse, child, brother, sister, friend, caregiver, facilitator, supervisor, teacher, mentor, manager, leader, volunteer, benefactor, or philanthropist.
Life assigns you these roles to help you honor your debt to the people who have touched you. That is a debt that you can never fully pay back, but must simply pass on.
“Why Do We Have Children?”
The following essay drives home the importance of paying it forward.
One day after years of trying, a father finally succeeded in getting his daughter to comprehend the love he felt for her. The young woman had just given birth. Naturally the baby became the center of her world. “Now you understand how much I love you”, her father said to her.
Except on rare occasions, a parent’s love is absolute. Children come first and get the best. Savings, housing, friendship and leisure time—everything revolves around the child. What is the cause for this strong attachment? Why do we happily sacrifice our pleasures, our money, sometimes even our lives? Why do we have children?
Many explanations have been given: we procreate to perpetuate the species, out of duty, for normal and religious believes, to reassure ourselves, out of carelessness or passion. But the focus, the center from which everything starts to make sense, is the child himself. We make babies because we need them: we need them because they need us.
We give our children everything: life, support, protection, tenderness. But in giving our all to them, we become the source of everything. This bond that makes us be sons to our fathers and fathers to our sons is indestructible. Nothing can undo the fact that we are born by this woman, our mother, just as nothing can undo the fact that we are parents of this girl, our daughter. A sage Jew, Rambam, once suggested to his son the objective necessity of this parental chain. “You are not only my son”, he told him. “You are also my father’s grandson”.
We have children to honor our debt to our parents. A debt that can never be paid, only transferred. Whatever the meaning and the price may be, one must marvel at the inexhaustible abundance of this love. It was the first and remains the basis of all the loves to come.
[Source: From an issue of Reader’s Digest India circa 1989. Author unknown.]
This comports with what American feminist writer Nancy Friday (1933–2017) considered in her My Mother/My Self: The Daughter’s Search for Identity (1977): “The debt of gratitude we owe our mother and father goes forward, not backward. What we owe our parents is the bill presented to us by our children.”