Years ago my business partner and I had a work engagement several hours away. As he picked me up in the freezing winter pre-dawn twilight, he handed me a hot café’ au lait and an almond croissant. When I rummaged in my purse to pay him back for the breakfast, he looked over with a smile and said, “Barbara, let’s not have that kind of relationship.”

I’ve used those words myself over the ensuing years when friends want to settle up with me. Sometimes I appreciate repayment – if the bill is high and/or the self-employment revenues low. Most often though, it seems silly to me to nickel-and-dime with people close to me.

It steals the joy of sharing. It presumes that we can use money to cancel our indebtedness to each other.

This week I’m borrowing my mother’s car while mine is getting repaired after running into a deer. I am her primary caregiver, so she is very often on the receiving end of my help. She told me yesterday how happy she is to help me out for a change.

The friend who helped me get home after the deer collision will be keeping my gardens watered and staying in my place while he looks for a new home.

My next-door neighbor lends me her lawn mower and I thank her for her generosity by pulling weeds in our adjoining front gardens.

When I make too much soup (which I invariably do….), I share a few portions with my upstairs neighbor. As the owner of the building, he takes joy in keeping it beautiful and functional for the two of us. We are both old school neighbors – the kind that enjoys helping out and making life better for the people near us.

And my little comfort choir – The Morning Star Singers – has been humming along on volunteer spirit for nine years now. None of us get paid for bringing song and compassionate presence to people in hospices and hospitals. The administrative details are handled by several kind souls and I volunteer my leadership time as well.

At the airport today, I will be looking for opportunities to be kind and friendly to the people I encounter at the TSA, in the shops, and on the plane. To be honest, I practice this kind of warmth not just for the benefit of others; I do it to keep myself from falling into crankiness and self-absorption.

These simple exchanges are symbolic for a deeper kind of sharing among us. They make manifest the invisible bonds that link us to each other. They keep us engaged in the great cycle of giving and receiving that is the basis of all life on this planet.

Consider the wise words of the great Sufi poet, Hafiz:
Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe me.”



About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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8 Responses to Indebtedness

  1. Avril says:

    I love this so much…

  2. mmitchell0818 says:

    Goddess..thank you for sharing this reflection… What an inspiration you are…

    I love how my heart is opening…into warm pools that have laid waiting… tender spaces…that have held their arms open wide…waiting… sassy tail wagging that remembers youth’s blessed reverence of irreverence…

    It’s been great to have some time with you..

    Much Love, Margaret


    On Thu, Aug 18, 2016 at 12:16 AM, Full Voice — Barbara McAfee wrote:

    > Barbara McAfee posted: “Years ago my business partner and I had a work > engagement several hours away. As he picked me up in the freezing winter > pre-dawn twilight, he handed me a hot café’ au lait and an almond > croissant. When I rummaged in my purse to pay him back for the breakf” >

  3. Old school neighbors–yesssss!

  4. Mary Morrow says:


    This is such a beautiful thought, so well spoken and Hafiz quote at the end brought chills (the Holy Spirit good kindJ )

    Thank you!


  5. Ross says:

    i get to be YOUR brother. Wow. You capture so much in words. Thank you.

  6. Bruce O'Brien says:

    A lot of us are indebted to you, Barbara.

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