ODBlog: Bank Fines, COVID, and Goodwill

-Rev. David Fekete

My bank charged me $100 in fines, today. Specifically, $96. My immediate reaction was I saw red. When I see red, my usual reaction is to holler at someone. So, I was going to call up my bank and holler at someone.But I reconsidered.

I thought about a seminar led by Mi’kmaq Elder David Lone Bear Sanipass about The Star Teachings. The seminar was at the Toronto Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2018. A young man started talking to me when I was entering the seminar room. He looked at the Tibetan Prayer Beads I had purchased at a kiosk in the Parliament, which I was wearing, and asked me if I were a Buddhist. I told him that, mostly, I’m Christian but I have a keen interest in Buddhism, as well as many other world religions. I don’t remember what else we talked about, by my sub-conscious mind realized that I was in the middle of a nice conversation with someone who didn’t know me, who wasn’t a friend or family member of mine.

The seminar got weirder. Mr. Sanipass’ partner—I can’t remember her name, and I’ve lost the program—said that once David told her to withdraw a bunch of one-dollar bills from the bank. She passed them out to the homeless down-and-out. But then she thought, “Why am I only helping out the impoverished? What about other people?’ So she took her wad of one-dollar-bills to a local grocery store and tried to hand them out. Firs of all, the cashier told her she couldn’t take any money or she would get in legal trouble. So, next, she began handing out dollar bills to customers. This startled people. What she was really handing out was good-will. It wasn’t the dollar, which can buy nothing, today. People started to hand the dollars to other people. And the indifferent chore, sometimes a drudgery, of going to the grocery store became a world of love and caring among total strangers, initiated by the shocking act of one person handing out dollar bills. David Lone Bear Sanipass created an atmosphere of caring and love among us hundred-odd people at his seminar. Like the student at the door who struck up a conversation about my Tibetan Prayer Beads. David never said what the Star Teachings actually are.

So, in my mind, I called The Star Teachings the experiences he and his students generated about caring and love among strangers in a world that can be indifferent at times, in fact, cold, at times.For about three weeks after attending David’s seminar, I tried to carry the Star Teachings into my world in Edmonton. I asked the barista at Starbucks his name, and said Hi, calling him by name just to buy a cup of coffee. I bought a homeless man a sandwich at the convenience store near me, until management told me not to do it: it only encourages them to loiter around the store and scare the customers.So, tonight, I remembered Elder David Lone Bear Sanipass’ Star Teachings, or what I took to be The Star Teachings. I was still going to call up the bank. But I realized that whoever answered the phone at the bank wasn’t the bank. He or she or they would be a person. A person who worked at the bank. He or she or they didn’t generate the $96 fine, it was a computer that did it, automatically. It dawned on me that I could generate an atmosphere of caring and love with the total stranger who answered the phone at the bank switchboard.They say you attract more bees with honey. But this goes way beyond the saying.

We are in a COVID-weary world. We’ve got masks and anti-maskers. We’ve got vaxxers and anti-vaxxers. We’ve got government restrictions. We’ve got proof of vaccination mandates. We’ve got border closings, lockdowns, and brawls on airplanes. We’ve got a lot of outrage. BUT WHAT WE DO NOT HAVE IS NOT-PERSONS. The Prime Minister, the champions for vaccinations, the anti-vaxxers are all people. They are not policies. They are people, and I, for one, am not going to hate anyone, anymore.

I remember David’s partner handing out dollar-bills in the grocery store. And I remember that student talking about my Tibetan Prayer Beads at the doorway to the seminar room. I’m not in a place where I start handing out dollar bills to strangers. But I think the time is right to do something kind, even out of the ordinary, even if it breaks social conventions. Even if it shocks us and other people out of our comfort zones, out of our grumbling complacency.

I called the bank tonight and I didn’t holler at the man who answered the phone. Even though entering my access number almost redirected me to the auto-serve bank voicemail and even though I had to listen to a bunch of bank ads telling me I could log onto the chat bot to resolve my questions. When I finally got through to a person, I remembered that I was talking to a person and I didn’t raise my voice. This will surprise some people who know me. The bank reduced its fine by half, but it was a one-shot deal because it’s the first time it happened and it is not policy, and I shouldn’t expect this, and I need to maintain a sufficient balance for automatic withdrawals, and because, and because, and I have to . . .

We’re never going to run into not-people. We’re never going to meet a policy, personally. And everybody’s tired. I’m not at the point when I’m going to hand out dollar-bills in a grocery store. But I am in a place where I recognize each person’s personhood whom I meet. We all generate the world we live in. We may disagree with other people. We may disagree passionately with public policy. But it is always a person we are disagreeing with. Even the Prime Minister is a person. I say, let’s pitch in and do our part to ease the pain of living in this COVID-weary world. Talk to strangers and remember those strangers are people.

Rev. David Fekete, PhD, is pastor at the Church of the Holy City (Swedenborgian) in Edmonton, Alberta, and contributing editor of “Our Daily Bread” at spiritualquesters.org. His passions include literature, ecumenism, music and the arts, as well as interfaith dialogue.

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