“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” ~Benjamin Franklin
Tax day is coming up fast y’all. It’s a hard day to get excited about, admittedly.
This year, as I log long hours catching up on neglected bookkeeping in the 11th hour, I find myself coming back to the same question:
What do I owe?
What do I owe in tax dollars, of course, but more. What do I owe this life? What do I owe my fellow human? What do I owe this planet and future generations?
And, in true tax code style, in figuring what one owes, it’s helpful to consider what one has gained.
In this life, I have gained much. Among what I consider to be my many unearned privileges are: that I was born in a time and culture when and where my gender no longer renders me the status of chattel and I have the right (and access to the education and financial independence necessary) to leave my husband if I so choose; that I was born with the basic racial privilege of being white, making everything from attaining employment to dealing with a speeding ticket easier and often less expensive than my equally qualified counterparts of color; that I was born to a family who loved and wanted me and valued education; that I always had a safe home where all of my basic needs were consistently met; that I was born healthy and with the mental and physical faculties that allow me to learn easily and function well in society. I cannot claim responsibility for a single one of these privileges. I did not earn them through hard work or merit, I was simply born into favorable circumstances. And those favorable circumstances outfitted my personal toolbox with a range of tools that have equipped me to do everything from build a happy and supportive marriage to pursue a graduate level education to take personal and professional risks in pursuit of growth and challenge.
So yes, my net gain in life has been pretty impressive. And as I begin to consider what I owe, I find it impossible not to keep in mind all those who didn't begin with my favorable circumstances. To think about how to bring those who may not have won the random privilege lottery to a place where we can find ourselves on more equal footing. I think about the decimation that our planet and environment has suffered to provide me with this computer I’m typing on and the electricity to power it, the car that drove me to this coffee shop I’m currently sitting in, the beans to be roasted and shipped across the world for this warm mug of liquid I’m addicted to.
So I owe something. I owe a lot of somethings. I owe my tax dollars, my contribution to roads and schools and to help provide for all people what I was lucky enough to be provided at birth, even when (especially when?) it doesn’t benefit me directly. I owe my willingness to see what is happening around me and to look even when it’s inconvenient or unpleasant. I owe my acknowledgement that the world does not revolve around my personal story, that even when programs “hurt” me or my small business, perhaps they benefit my larger community or members of my community that are struggling in ways that I am not and that there is deep and true merit in that.
I owe kindness and compassion.
I owe gratitude and joy.
I owe awareness and responsibility.
Death and taxes. Death and taxes. They may be all that is certain in this life, all that is guaranteed, but between birth and death, between gain and tax, there are a million moments. Those moments are filled with joy or fear or contentment or worry or anticipation or triumph. They are filled with work or rest or fun. They are filled with love and loss and life.
So maybe, at the end of the day, the core of what I owe comes to this basic truth: I will die someday, so I owe this one life I’ve been gifted my full attention, my full engagement, my very best work.
What do you owe?