Karen de Balbian Verster is the author of Boob, A Story of Sex, Cancer & Stupidity. Anne Tyler read an excerpt of
Boob and wrote, “‘Mother’s Day’ made me laugh out loud.” Another excerpt, “Tabula
Rasa,” appeared in The Breast: An Anthology and Publishers Weekly called it a “fluid, moving story.” (Select Boob Excerpt to read the first chapter.) She is currently
working on a memoir and is an intermittent blogger.
I’m an inveterate invoice and receipt checker and I recently discovered I was overpaid at work. Oh dear,
a moral dilemma, since my first reaction in such situations is usually to gloat over my great luck – like finding a fifty
dollar bill on the street. But in this case, I know the owner of that fifty dollar bill so conscience dictates I return the
money to its rightful owner.
However, it’s much more challenging to do the right thing when the money belongs to a faceless corporation
even if it’s my employer. I grew up in the 70s when “f*#k the establishment” was the norm. Even though my mother refuses to
accept a free newspaper from the person who’s just bought one from the vending machine, my father made a much stronger impression
with his anti-authoritarian attitudes which culminated in his hippie foray into shoplifting so I’ve had to work really hard
to counteract his influence by attempting to practice rigorous and unflinching honesty in all my affairs.
When I pointed out the error to my manager, she said, “Thank you for your honesty. Not everyone would
do that.” Later, while watching a film called Made in Dagenham about women getting
equal pay as men in the 70s, the main character’s husband self-righteously points out that he’s been a good husband because
he’s never cheated on her or beat the children, and she responds by saying since when did that become a virtue rather than
a given? It seems the same question applies here since the average person won’t steal a ten dollar item from a store but if
the cashier gives them ten dollars too much change, they’ll pocket it. (Not me – I resolutely hand it back.)
Maybe it’s human nature to want to clutch at something that isn’t ours. When my daughter was very young
we received a call from the neighbors whom she’d just visited. The husband had made a withdrawal from the bank and left a
sheaf of twenty dollar bills on his desk, one of which was missing. He was very apologetic and embarrassed about calling to
ask if our daughter had possibly taken it, saying he’d already done everything short of a cavity search with his own children.
When questioned, our daughter admitted she’d taken the twenty but instead of putting it back she’d panicked and hidden it
in a drawer in their bathroom. We were relieved the twenty had not left the neighbor’s home but shocked since we thought we’d
taught her right from wrong and had made an effort to address her needs and wants within reason. (I later wondered if she
was envious of the little girl down the street whose parents denied her nothing including wads of cash.) Fortunately, her
crime weighed heavily on her conscience, creating such shame she could barely bring herself to apologize to the neighbors
who graciously responded.
Some years later, while returning a rental car at an airport, she found a big wad of cash on the ground,
picked it up and looked uncertainly at me. Again, I had to fight that initial “take the money and run” feeling, but I said,
“That’s a lot of money. Let’s turn it in, in case someone has reported losing it.” As it turned out no one had, but we left
it there in case someone came back for it. Then it occurred to me that if no one claimed the money the attendant would most
likely keep it so I asked if the money could be returned to my daughter in that case. It seemed to take forever for the allotted
time to pass since my daughter hounded me every day but at last the money came in the mail.
Ultimately, the reason I attempt to practice rigorous and unflinching honesty in all my affairs is not
because “karma is a boomerang,” or any other such superstitious payback beliefs but because I believe it is morally right.
I’ve spent many years forging a spiritual path for myself, and money actually plays a very small part in my moral dilemmas.
Of much greater difficulty for me is the process of recognizing and receiving God’s spiritual gifts which A Course in Miracles says, “have no reality apart from your receiving them. Your receiving completes His giving.
You will receive because it is His Will to give.” Now that’s an error in my favor
I’ll take any time.
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