Thursday, April 21, 2011

Were It Me - Served with Tea

"Kindness is in our power,
even when fondness is not."
Samuel Johnson

Completing the daily Decodaquote in our local paper, I was particularly moved by this quote. It struck home with me because I know, beyond a doubt, that those whom we are least fond of need our kindness most of all.

Born in England in 1709, Samuel Johnson knew poverty well. His family experienced financial difficulties during his childhood and he later was forced to leave college due to a lack of funds. Childhood illness, including smallpox and tuberculosis of the lymph nodes, left him clumsy, partially blind and deaf, and suffering involuntary convulsions. These disabilities led many to mistake him as ill-mannered and an “idiot”. He struggled to support himself in teaching and journalism, eventually being awarded Doctor of Laws degrees by Dublin and Oxford Universities. Never experiencing great wealth himself, he showed generosity and kindness to beggars, prostitutes, children and animals. He became one of the most influential contributors to modern language, with his Dictionary setting the standard for a century and becoming the basis for those that followed. He is remembered today for his now-famous utterances, largely thanks to his friend James Boswell who noted them in his biography of Johnson.

In the early ‘50s, my old, 2-story, stone elementary school housed one small class of handicapped students deep in the basement. One late afternoon, I brazenly related a tale to my mom about the “retards”. Her admonishment was swift - strict, but gentle. She informed me (in no uncertain terms) that no one could help having a disability and that God made us all. It was one of many talks we had regarding those less fortunate than myself and the message was always the same - be kind and helpful. When I complained about not liking someone who was different and that I did not want to be friends with them, Mom asked me to imagine what it would be like to be that person. She explained that I did not need to be their best buddy, only treat them with respect. Thus, the seeds of compassion were sown.

My dad’s good friend, Raleigh, had been severely disfigured by accident or disease. He’d undergone numerous surgeries and his face was horribly scarred; large patches of grafted skin were visible and his mouth was oddly-shaped, lips practically nonexistent. He was difficult to understand and watch eat, as food easily dribbled out. I had ample opportunity to notice both, as he often dropped by to visit Dad and share a cup of coffee. Invariably, Dad would invite him to stay for a meal and Raleigh, being a bachelor, never refused. I remember with shame having youthful irritation at this man, who delayed our meals and lingered to visit. My parents were ever kind to him, and today I remember with fondness how stories and jokes flowed during his visits. Over the years, I gained understanding.

There are always some people in my life that I’m not fond of - I still try to treat them with kindness.

The poor are shunned even by their neighbors...
He who despises his neighbor sins...
He who oppresses the poor
shows contempt for their Maker,
but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.
Proverbs 14:20,21 & 31

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