Thursday January 6, 2022
I’m turning into a sentimental old fool. I find myself unexpectedly moved to tears, or at least to sniffles, by some act of kindness or caring.
It could be anything. A video clip about a group of people working together to extricate a moose from a mudhole. An anonymous donation to my church’s Thrift Shop that prepays purchases for a dozen or more shoppers.
The very best present I received this past Christmas was a letter from my granddaughter Katherine. She wrote, in part:
“As I was pondering what to get you for Christmas, I realized that this year I wanted to give you an experience rather than a material gift. As corny as it may sound, materialistic items will always be here, whereas our time together will not.
“I am sorry for times where I have acted ungrateful or unkind. Not being kinder to you and Mom after Grandma died has been the biggest regret of my life. I am truly so sorry.
“Thank you. Grandpa, you are such an inspiring person. I hope to be like you. Such a great amount of joy is brought into so many people's lives because you are in it. Spending time with you is one of the things I look forward to the most. Merry Christmas Grandpa, I love you so much!”
“Is it okay?” Katherine asked, when I looked up from reading her letter. I couldn’t answer; I was too choked up.
A new reaction
This is a new reaction for me. In my teens and twenties, I treated sentiment with something close to contempt. Mum and Dad kissing? Ew, gross! Happy endings in movies? Get real!
Strangely enough, sad stories don’t make me cry. Happy ones do.
I don’t cry when I see a homeless person huddled in a doorway. I’m more likely to feel grateful it’s not me.
But tears flow when someone else brings fast-food coffee and a couple of donuts, and the two sit together on the sidewalk and just talk.
I don’t cry for a town destroyed by fire, or a community flooded. If anything, I feel despair that governments and corporations refuse to take climate change seriously.
But I sniffle when total strangers offer meals, clothing, accommodation.
I cry when a baby born with a heart defect survives surgery, develops the strength to crawl, to make happy sounds, to reach for a bright bauble.
And yes, I cry at Christmas Eve services, when I hear the so-familiar story of Mary and Joseph, giving birth in a cattle pen, invaded by shepherds smelling of sheep and sweat.
The story ends, “And Mary treasured all these things, and kept them in her heart.”
Perhaps it’s just aging. My father admitted that he was affected the same way by sentimental endings. Even on soppy TV commercials.
Or maybe I’ve been sensitized by pain, to pain. Perhaps I have never gotten over the deaths of my closest family members. Perhaps there’s no bravado left in me to bluster through, pretending “I’m all right, Jack!”
I’m not. No one is.
I follow, when possible, a Jew whose living demonstrated gentleness and caring. So when I see those traits being lived, I rejoice. And rejoicing, strangely enough, brings tears.
Copyright © 2022 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Last week I lamented the loss of my little over-wintering hummingbird Jade to the cold snap all over western Canada. Several of you sympathized.
Isabel Gibson: “Poor little Jade. Ah, well. A character in a John MacDonald book (speaking against seeking vengeance for loved ones killed by nefarious actors) said, ‘The living are worth every bit of love we can throw at them. The dead are worth our tears.’
“So here's a toast to lost causes and a tear for Jade. May we keep throwing every bit of love and life we have at those we love.”
Likewise, this from Margaret Tribe: “Thank you for helping the hummingbird. I choose to believe that she gained enough strength from the nectar you kept from freezing that she was able to continue on her way south to a warmer place.
“I also choose to believe that every act of kindness makes the world a better place.”
Jim Henderschedt reminded me of the story of the boy throwing starfish back into the sea – it may be a hopeless cause to save all of them, but it matters to this one. Jim wrote, “Yes, many of our actions are, in the end, lost causes. But it matters. It mattered to your hummingbird if only for a few days. And, my friend, it mattered to you.
Tom Watson had a recommendation: “Guelph author Nick Ruddock's latest book is entitled The Last Hummingbird West of Chile. A very imaginative story.
Steve Roney: “I can’t go along with you on the value of pursuing lost causes. The Christian doctrine of a just war expressly prohibits engaging in a war you view as a lost cause. Presumably the principle extends to other areas. Does it make sense to expend resources on a doomed hummingbird that might be spent giving some poor guy in East Van a hot meal or a warm bed in this weather? The essence of all evil is mistaking a lesser good for a greater, and isn’t this an example of that?”
Bob Rollwagen expanded the notion of “lost causes”: “I have participated in many causes, some of which have reach their goal, some not so much, and some have been abandoned as they were not creating value from my perspective. Some of those were continued by others and I wish them every success. Personally, I have no time for causes that reduce civil rights, cause poverty or support privileged vs disadvantaged. It appears though, that such negative causes are being disguised by those who have the power and wealth to do so and are succeeding. It is truly sad to see [U.S.] Democratic majority controlled by rich and powerful minorities. I trust that over time, the majority will reach a level that allows true democratic rule of a fair and balanced society.”
Diana Cabott wrote from Vancouver: “Living down here by the sea we have hummingbirds thru the winter....however this winter has been a challenge to keep my two feeders coming in and out of the house so they don't freeze. The battle to buy a hummingbird heater has been waiting -- behind a list of 300 others waiting to purchase as well!”
My first paraphrase of Psalm 29 played into the view of God as an Almighty Destroyer. I no longer see God as the instigator of natural disasters. Yet I have to recognize that crises and disasters – volcanoes, floods, storms – that shatter the stability of our ordered lives are also often the means of moving to a new awareness.
So I’ve modified the earlier version:
1 Don't hang your hopes on human capabilities.
2 Science and technology, wealth and popularity --
these will all pass away.
3 Fame and fortune will not save you when disaster strikes.
The winds whirl in; wild waters tear away your shores.
4 Houses collapse like cards; corporations crumble; assets become worthless.
5 In the storms of life, mighty empires are uprooted.
6 You stand as naked and helpless as the day you were born.
Your possessions, your wealth, your status are useless to you.
7 There is just you and God.
8 You tremble like a twig in a tempest.
9 All that you depended upon is stripped away, like the last leaves from autumn trees.
10 Faced with your own frailty, you may sink into despair. Nothing can save you -- except the comforting presence of God. God is always there, supporting you as water supports a fish.
11 God’s all-encompassing compassion is greater than any human crisis.
Only God can sustain you through the storm,
and carry you to the calm on the other side.
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalms available from Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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