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Commentaries and observations about the conflicting moral beliefs and psychological issues facing our culture.
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25 August 2022
Willy And The Little Ones: Reminders Of Gratitude
Two events transpired this week which stay in my mind; events I am driven to share with you in the words that follow. These events will not alter history nor shake nations nor move mountains. They are small, passing moments involving persons you and I may see at a distance . . . or even know.
Daily events often smother us with their ordinariness. But the ordinary events of life are really not ordinary at all, not to be taken for granted, not without point or purpose. Indeed, no event in our lives is meaningless, without profit to heart and mind. Human affairs always offer us messages of Hope, but they are so often discreetly enfolded in routine or, at times, wrapped in suffering and doubt. Yet, those messages of Hope are ever there for us to glean, if we put our egos aside and seize the moments of transcendence which life constantly affords.
This is especially true for those of sturdy heart and trusting soul who seek Hope with determination . . . and are willing to pay its often-taxing price. They recognize that Hope is always to be found in our daily events, constantly hovering within the untimely nooks and discomforting crannies of our self-absorbed routines.
It is in our tedious little chores and in the persistent distractions of the ordinary that the transcendent values of life are ever found, patiently awaiting our notice … if, that is, we have the sense and the foresight to peer beyond the obvious; if, that is, we are wise enough to recognize the veiled goodness and virtue which inhabit the lives of each and all of us – goodness and virtue which always push us to transcend our frail, needy selves.
Event #1 occurred near my home, in the adjacent shopping area, replete with many stores. It extends for blocks and includes every sort emporium imaginable: clothing stores and sushi restaurants, laundromats and barber shops, bakeries and a dentist’s office – everything one might need – and more.
Recently, as I was leaving the dry cleaners, an elderly man passed by the entrance. He shuffled laboriously, slowly dragging his feet, his head sagging low, his eyes downcast. He moved with obvious effort as he trudged painfully past the cleaner’s doorway where I stood.
This elderly man had an unkempt beard and was attired in tattered, filthy clothes which were far too large for him. He wore a torn-and-battered straw hat, and his ragged shoes were wrapped in cloth, probably to ease the wages of walking.
He was pushing a cart; a dozen plastic bags containing his possessions hung from the cart’s handles. And he shuffled ever-so-slowly. Each footstep was laboriously achieved, so agonizingly slowly did he walk, so precariously gained seemed each step he took.
I watched this old man (perhaps a man my age, I thought) as he passed the door of the cleaner’s establishment and proceeded up the colonnade. Then I went to my car … but I could not get in.
I was touched by the sight of this old man, patiently pushing his belongings ahead of him with obvious and painful exertion. I turned and watched him shuffle up the street with agonizing hesitant pace, his body bent over his cart, as if he were approaching the limit of his strength, as if exhaustion would betake him any instant, and lay him low upon the sidewalk.
It was more than curiosity which then moved me to follow him – at a distance, to be sure. But I did follow him, because I feared for this old man; I feared that this old man might fall to the pavement before my eyes and never rise again.
l feared for this elder who clearly lived on the streets and in the alleys, alone. I feared for this elder who wearily pushed his small cart, with all the possessions of his lifetime stuffed into plastic bags dangling from rusty handlebars.
I feared for the health and safety of this stranger - disheveled, unwashed, barely able to push his belongings up a curb as he crossed the street and slouched away with dreadful weariness.
I worried for this man, for this brother of mine, whose name I did not know. I worried that he might somehow hurt himself, that he might hurt himself badly … and no one would see him fall … no one would miss him … and no one would care, or would ever again lovingly say his name, or ever know how he struggled to conquer that last curb, so he could carry on with whatever measure of life still remained to him in his soul.
Finally, as I watched from a distance, he settled heavily in a chair at a sidewalk donut shop. A patron at a nearby table looked askance at him, then moved to a different table, her back to him. I hesitated . . . but finally approached him and, with regard for his right to my respect, I hesitantly introduced myself.
To my relief, I found that he (let’s call him “Willy”) was quite talkative, even buoyant to meet a new person. We chatted, Willy and I, for a few minutes --- and, as he leaned his chin on his white-tipped cane, I suddenly realized that he was - he is - blind.
Event #2 occurred last Sunday when I went to Mass at my parish church. As I walked to my usual place, I noticed a middle-aged couple already sitting right behind me.
They had two small children with them. One child was a tiny girl with oriental features, a child of, perhaps, seven years. The other child was a tiny black lad, sitting - or, more precisely, squirming - in his stroller in the aisle. From his stroller, the child looked at me with a wide-eyed stare which would surely melt an iceberg. He was barely two, I’d say, but he was clearly a demanding and vocal handful. The parents, both white, had (as wise parents do) separated the little ones. But the child in the stroller was not easily to be silenced.
And then, the truth of this small scene hit me …..
This white couple had brought these children – their children – to Mass with them, to worship with them, so that the four of them would worship as a family. And it struck me how I had nearly missed the reality of stunning generosity of this couple who are giving life to their children. With quiet, yet incalculable goodness, and at unrecognized sacrifice, this man and this woman are creating memories, giving Hope, building a loving family for their children and, most of all, letting the little boy and his sister know they are truly loved.
I am sometimes advised by readers of this blog to avoid words such as “moral” and “virtue.” These words are taboo these days; they sound officious and superior, off-putting to the modernist’s ear. They reek of righteous judgmentalism and conjure up visions of intrusive scrupulosity, I am told. They aggravate some readers and fitfully remind them of religious authority which our secular world has banished.
But Willy and The Children remind me that our world is an uneven and often confusing place. Suffering and bewilderment exist around us and, often, within us. But, for mysterious reasons, God still allows hapless folk to create dire circumstances for themselves and for others by ignoring the restraints which solid moral traditions have built for centuries. Life’s mysteries surely do include many unknowns, including the seemingly uneven will of God and the dilemma of human freedom.
Yet, despite our humanity’s predictable errors and our constant insistence on defining ourselves without proper restraints, our lives are still given to us as gifts, generous gifts, gifts we could never earn nor merit by our own efforts.
Each of us does what seems most fitting with our gift of life, given our particular circumstances - even though others may find our choices morally wretched or rudely distasteful. But we are alive -- and the abundant mysteries of life are often overwhelming, quite beyond our limited comprehension. Eventually, however, accountability will occur and the boundaries of our nature will be the assertive standard to which we are held. That’s why, eventually, human nature always reminds us that we are, first and foremost, needy children of God.
It is wise of us, therefore, to see that Willy and The Children challenge us all - and give us pause to remember that God’s Justice is infused with His Wisdom. And it is in His Wisdom that God knows the heart of each one of us. It is by His Wisdom that God peers with clear vision into the soul of every person and knows the secrets we hold therein, and gazes at us with a measure of Divine Mercy which we shall never grasp.
While I cannot - will not - stifle my concern for Willy, I am also oddly comforted for him, knowing that God sees far beyond what I see when Willy (his white cane tapping the sidewalk) shuffles weakly into view and, with his thoroughly disarming smile, once more opens himself to me with astonishing simplicity.
I am also confident God watches The Children … and is greatly pleased to behold such selfless giving, as when their parents extend the grandest gift to them which we human beings can offer one another, a loving and stable family.
It is, perhaps, presumptuous of me to say these words, to think of God and His creatures in seemingly simplistic terms, as if God were possessed of the traits we humans hope to find when we encounter Him . . . as we all shall, some unknown day.
But – given the abundance of evidence which God provides for us about Himself – I believe we would be guilty of great ingratitude if we do not think of Him as infinitely perceptive and infinitely caring in ways which are far beyond all boundaries that we know of.
If Wisdom serves us rightly, then all other emotions fade and our most fitting response is our simple gratitude to God; gratitude, with its leveling impulses and its humbling revelation that we must give thanks for good people, such as Willy and The Children and their loving parents. And, from the depth of our gratitude comes our prayer for them – and for ourselves:
Who are you, Wise and Patient God
Who fill us, now and ever, with Hope,
And brighten all the doubt and darkness of our hearts.
You guide us forward in our lives,
Holding us firmly like a loving Parent.
And should you let us go,
We could not take a single step alone.
You are the Space in which we live,
Embracing all our being, hidden in our hearts,
Yet alive in our every breath and in our heart’s every beat.
You are nearer to us than we are to ourselves,
Closer to us in Your patience and Your loving readiness
To forgive us - and then to soothe our weary minds.
You are our Father, our Friend, our Holy Spirit.
Your fidelity is infinite, as is your Love for us.
We can but thank you in deepest gratitude
For all that we receive from you,
For even when we are in pain, we are never alone.
We are always and everywhere tightly embraced in your arms,
Our God, our Goodness, our One and Lasting Hope,
First and forever.