I read another quote last week. It was in a book called, “A Guide to the Perplexed’ by Maimonides, a famous Jewish theologian in Renaissance Spain. In his book, Maimonides claims that, “... the existing form of things proves nothing at all because it is merely one of the various phases of the thing,...” In other words, at what phase of its life do we define the appearance of a tree? Of a person? Or someone’s virtue?
How many times do we, in our pride and arrogance, jump to conclusions over an action, or judge a person solely by their immediate apparent effects and appearances? The fruit we see today of the actions that seemed so right and civilised yesterday puts us to shame, and so will the actions of today if we are fortunate to see them after their maturation and fruition.
How many times are we enthralled by that beautiful blond-hair-blue-eyed innocent looking child to only discover an awful side of his persona as soon as he turns two or three, let alone 12 …! How many times have we negatively judged this teenager only to later discover in him a very responsible mature adult? How many times have we judged someone and defined their character by one action that displeased us? How many time have we judged someone by standards that we were later to change?
Due to our inability to objectiveness, maybe we should leave the business of judging people and their actions altogether to another more competent Authority. And if we are to judge, maybe we should content ourselves with judging others with the same compassionate, giving-the-benefit-of-the-doubt measuring rod that we would want to be used in judging us. Maybe that way, we’ll end up with more friends than enemies!
As Steve was teaching this week at drill, he displayed a picture on the screen of a sinking boat with the following quote, “It could be that the purpose of your life is to serve as a warning to others!” The quote stuck with me because of an unexpected phone call this week. It was from someone we haven't heard from in maybe 15 years. While it was good to hear from this person, it took us back to an time uncomfortable time in our lives. I don't know about you, but I don't always like to be reminded of where I was in my life a long time ago, you know, of these “ooh, what a stupid jerk I was…” times (see former blog post, “Oh, What a Stupid Jerk I was…!”). My wife compared it to all the skeletons in the proverbial closet coming out in a teasing mocking dance.
Today, as we near 60 years old, both my wife and I feel like we finally have a pretty good grip on things. We feel like we matured in our relationships with others, including with our children who are now all adults, as well as in our practical and spiritual life. We can look back at where we've been, laugh at ourselves and use the stupid things we did in the past as practical life examples to teach others today. So whereas we feel uneasy about certain events in our past, the lessons we have learned from it have become the invaluable and indispensable tool in our ‘medical kit’.
The thing about life is that it can not be learned from a book. Just like a carpenter learns his trade by practicing carpentry ’, an EMT by being faced with medical emergencies, a firefighter by drilling and enacting fire scenarios, life is learned through ‘living’, and we generally learn much more from our mistakes than from our successes.
So next time you feel uncomfortable about your past, think of all the lessons you've learned, think of all the life training it afforded you, and remember that it is not just the arrival at the destination that is important, but what we learn along the way, the lessons we gather in our journey. Who knows,
"It could be that the purpose of your life is to serve as warning to others!”
I have just turned 58. During those years, I have travelled around the world, met many people, and had many friends which seem scattered on a very wide philosophical, political and religious spectrum. As a result, I have made some observations about love and friendship.
I have noticed that we often make friends based on our similarities with people. Many dating sites use that idea and base their match-making on ‘compatibility points’ which are in fact very often similarity points between people. It makes sense. As the old adage says, ‘Birds of a feather flock together!’
Friendship is used in many ways. It is used as social interactions, moral/emotional support, financial support (not to be abused and preferably practiced as a two-way avenue), and for those egocentric people, friendship can be used as a ‘fan club’. There are also the Facebook ‘friends’ but this takes us to another dimension. Friendship seems to have many concentric circles. There are the close friends who know everything about you, those on whose shoulder you cry on, those you go on a picnic with, and those you keep at arm’s length. As a general rule though, it seems that friendship is naturally divided along social, political, religious, or philosophical lines. American High-Schools are a very good microcosm of that reality.
But we are not birds who flock together by natural instincts. Unlike animals who live by instinct, we humans live by choice (or we should). As human beings, one of our ultimate choices is the one to be able to choose who our friends are. We can follow the natural trend to surround ourselves with pawns, with worshipers, with those who reflect us, or with people who, in all respect decency and order are able to challenge us, or at least present us with an alternate view. It might even be advisable as those people usually offer us something absolutely vital to our social thinking: balance.
As humans there is much more that unites than divides us. We all look for love, safety, security, acceptance, provision, and respect. We can always find points of agreement along these lines. I don’t know if I would make friend’s with a cannibal as I would wonder what he means when he says, “I like you!”, but I can certainly be a friend with someone of a different religion, political viewpoint and who holds to the same basic moral principles as me. Catholics and Protestants can be friends, as well as Israelis and Palestinians, Sunnis and Shiites. Even Democrats and Republicans can be friends. People can be friends though holding to different philosophies and persuasions because true love and friendship is, at the end of the day, a choice. We choose to be friends because of the greater cause that friendship represents.
As a chaplain, I will draw examples of what I am saying from the Bible. God called Abraham His friend; He called King David His beloved. Jesus also called His disciples His ‘friends’. When we’ve come to the realization of the high holiness of God and of the sinlessness of Jesus, what can we expect to have in common with them? Nothing!. So, what does this teach us about love and friendship? They love us and are our friends because they chose to in view of the greater cause that friendship with us represents.
The question therefore is, “If they chose to love us in spite of our differences, should we choose to love other human beings around us in spite of their differences?
I remember working with a home school network in Thailand. I was in charge of the high-school programs and was often frustrated at what appeared to me as the lack of foresight of my overseers, of those in charge of organizing the whole school. I had many things that I wanted to implement in my department, things that I felt were urgent and needed immediate attention. Somehow, I just couldn’t understand why everybody didn’t understand, why no-one cared to adapt to what was happening in my world, in my department, in my sphere of action, in my life etc … Was there, after all anything else that was more important?
I finally decided that time had come for me to to tell all. I cornered one of the women in charge of the department and expressed my feelings. I didn’t scream, yell , or shout, but in no uncertain terms I definitely expressed my disappointment. To my surprise, the woman gently addressed the issues I was concerned about then suddenly burst out in tears. It is then that I realised my own insensitivity. I hadn’t realized the weight of her own responsibility. I felt terrible. If anything can make me fall apart, a woman’s tears will do it every time. It was one of those: “Oh, what a stupid jerk I was …” moments in my life. (see previous blog post: "Oh, What a Stupid jerk I was...!"
As humans we are very proud. Whether in politics, religion, or social interactions, we like to think of ourselves as the center around which everyone dances. As a result, we can get so engrossed in our own world, in our own sphere of responsibility, that we forget that each of us are simply a cog. We are simply the cog of a greater machinery. No doubt, a very important cog; one without which the machine may fail to do its work at its utmost capacity or fail to do it all together. Without that cog, the machine may even be dangerous, but in spite of all these, we are one of these cogs and we have to work in unison with many other cogs. This new realization changed my perspective on everything. My concerns were certainly valid, but to push them above and beyond every other priority that my overseer was responsible for was wrong. I also realized that there were things that I could do myself in order to solve my own problems.
When reminiscing on these things of the past, I often thought that I am glad I didn’t go to her husband who was also an overseer for the school network. I probably didn’t because I knew he would have pushed the ‘authority button’, the “We know what we’re doing so deal with it” card on me which would have made me resist even more. Those ‘women’s tears’ actually did more to teach me a good lesson than any authoritative talk.
(A true story from WWll)
A chaplain on the battlefield came to a man who was wounded, lying on the ground. "Would you like me to read you something from this Book--the Bible?" he asked the soldier.
"I'm so thirsty," replied the man; "I would rather have a drink of water." Quickly as he could the chaplain brought the water. Then the soldier asked, "Could you put something under my head?" The chaplain took off his light overcoat, rolled it, and put it gently under the soldier's head for a pillow "Now," said the soldier, "If I had something over me! I am very cold." There was only one thing the chaplain could do. He took off his own coat, and spread it over the soldier. The wounded man looked up into his face, and said gratefully, "Thank you." Then he added feebly, "If there is anything in that Book in your hand that makes a man do for another what you have done for me, please read it to me."
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