Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Favor Bank

Who's on your caseload these days? And whose caseload are you on?

If the answers are no one and no one, you must be holed up in a cave in the Hindu Kush. Because unless you live in total seclusion, you're bound to get asked to lend a hand sometimes -- to write a recommendation, advise on a consumer purchase, pass along the name of a good doctor, suggest a great restaurant, console a lovelorn friend, read a manuscript, and so on. And then sometimes you're the one in need of a favor. That is when you mentally review your friends and acquaintances and decide who's the right one to ask.

Since each of us has our own needs and our own areas of expertise, the help you give may not resemble the help you get. My best friend, for example, is proficient in Tender Loving Care. My strong point is research - no subject too obscure. Just recently I found an acupuncturist in Wollongong, Australia for my friend's daughter, who has developed foot pains during her semester abroad.

Whatever your specialty, it's all part of the same karmic Favor Bank. One year someone advises your child on the process of applying for college; the next year you do the same for someone else's. Sometimes total strangers come around asking for advice.

My husband regularly counsels people who've heard through the grapevine that he succeeded in navigating the bureaucratic maze necessary to claim dual Italian citizenship. (Possible if your father or mother was born before your Italian grandfather was naturalized.)

When I had a rare pregnancy complication, I sought the advice of anyone I could think of. Later, I wrote about it and for years afterwards I heard from women in a similar situation. I was happy to take their calls because people had done the same for me.

Such favors help make the world a gentler place, so you make time for them even when your taxes are late or you're about to leave for a trip or your kitchen's being remodeled.

Last week my case load consisted of: a college friend of my daughter's who's working on a book and wants advice about agents; a friend of a friend who's celebrating a big birthday in New Orleans and asks for a list of the best places to hear music; a work acquaintance needing a doctor for her son who is a student here in New York.

So whose caseload was I on this month? I had to plan a party for 40, and anxious hostess that I am, I needed reassuring guidance. My friend who throws great parties, apparently effortlessly, came through with useful suggestions and general anxiety-soothing. When the day of the party dawned cold and rainy - the only such day all summer - he called to say, never mind the weather, it will be a great party anyway. And it was.

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