An Answering Cry: “Renascence”

A pastor once had a plaque on his desk that read, “Be kind. For every person you meet is fighting a hard battle”.

Kindness is a commodity that seems a rare thing in today’s society. It probably is, but the lack of it might come more under the heading of thoughtlessness. However, in the end, both amount to the same thing. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Acts of kindness are still around, it’s just that they’ve been downsized. You have to look harder for them. There’s a whole Net out there that avid kindness-seekers crawl over just to find tidbits.

On the TV screen, I see streams of people on city streets talking and gesticulating, fingers rapping out messages — to other people, yes, but not the ones they are walking beside, even though they might be friends or family.

As the world gets smaller and smaller, and our horizons get larger and larger, it’s as if our collective souls are sucked into gadgets and people simply get in our way. Conversation has been relegated to texting. Character has been e-traded for “total, instant gratification”.

If we want to see more acts of kindness, maybe we should step out of that flowing stream of humanity for a moment. Instead of searching for those “random acts” on the internet, maybe we should look for them inside our own selves. Perhaps we should pay more attention to those around us. Maybe that person beside you longs for eye contact, a spoken word, a whole five minutes set aside without some cell phone theme music interrupting.

Maybe we should notice there are needs going begging around us — a mother with children and a shopping cart struggling with a door; the elderly or handicapped having difficulty with high shelves in the grocery store; someone, yes, even a stranger, who looks like he might need a smile, or a nod, or a wave. Something that says, “Hey. I see you. I know you’re alive. There’s hope.” Remember the guy in New York City who dared to walk down the street wearing a placard that read, “Hug me”?

Compassion is the yeast of the soul. Just a pinch and it will expand, break the bonds that wrap us up into small, tight, uncaring packages, and feed those around us. Jesus knew it well. In Matthew 25 he acknowledged the compassion of the righteous who fed him when he was hungry, gave him a drink when he was thirsty, welcomed him when he was a stranger, clothed him when he was naked, visited him when he was sick, and came to him when he was in prison. When did we do all these things? they asked, puzzled. And he answered, “As you did it to the least of these, my brothers, you did it unto me.”

In a poem called “Renascence”, by Edna St. Vincent Millay, there are some verses that help me understand the empathy of compassion. I don’t claim to understand the whole poem, but I stake a claim on those lines that I feel I do. Here are those verses:

“A man was starving in Capri;
He moved his eyes and looked at me;
I felt his gaze, I heard his moan,
And knew his hunger as my own.
I saw at sea a great fog bank
Between two ships that struck and sank;
A thousand screams the heavens smote;
And every scream tore through my throat.
No hurt I did not feel, no death
That was not mine; mine each last breath
That, crying, met an answering cry
From the compassion that was I.

. . . The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky, –
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That cannot keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat – the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.”

“Be kind. For everybody you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

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