An African native wanted to give a birthday gift to the foreign doctor who had left a lucrative practice in his homeland to practice medicine in a village of huts in Africa. Wondering what to give this man whom he felt was not in need of anything, he walked 50 miles to collect a beautiful shell by the sea shore. The trip back and forth took him a week. Upon seeing the shell the doctor marvelled and exclaimed, “But you can only find this kind of shell by the sea!!” “Walking part of gift!” answered the African native.
We are now coming to the season when many people think about gift giving. There are many types of gifts; we can give an object, a meal, or even time. These time-old traditions also bring to the last two months of the year extra amounts of stress and frustration. We diplomatically have to decide what to buy for who; where people should sit at the table; what to serve; all along with fighting the weather, traffic, very busy schedules, tight finances, and possibly dysfunctional family dynamics.
There was a time when people gave items that they made. They also prepared special foods from scratch, and even had children make their own greeting cards. As such, the gift was not solely the object, but also the time, love, and care invested in creating it. They could then say, “Making, part of gift!’; “Cooking, part of gift!”, or “Drawing, part of gift!” I can remember last summer when we stayed overnight at the home of a family with 13 children in Montana. They had hosted us so nicely. We ate, had an evening of songs and playing a board game, then went to bed. In the morning the 11 year son greeted us with a plaque of the map of Oregon with our name in it, all made out of barbed-wire. It is now affixed to the left side of our front door. What touched me the most was not just the beautiful gift, but rather the personal initiative and the time it took for the boy to make this plaque. We ended the evening a little late that night, but instead of going to bed, this young man invested time to make us a beautiful gift that we cherish.
Our busy life may not allow us to put so much time and effort in gifts. We might find it easier to go to the store and buy already made things and pre-prepared food, but even then, when we have to navigate through bad traffic, fight with bad weather, contend with lack of parking spots, keep tabs over time and money constraints, negotiate issues with difficult to please friends and relatives as well as be concerned with dysfunctional family dynamics, let us be able to comfort ourselves by realizing that, “Hassle, part of gift!”
Newton’s Third Law decrees that, ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.’ In the realm of science, knowledge often unables us to predict the reaction engendered by a certain action. The concept is also true of life itself but unlike in science, in life we deal with a ‘wild card’ -humanity-, which renders reaction prediction a little more complicated. This should cause us to be very careful with what we send ‘out there’. Like a boomerang, it seems out actions always have a way of coming back to haunt us.
As a History teacher, I am often amazed at the cosmic truth of the ‘Boomerang Effect’. The Bible puts it as ‘... whatever one sows that he will also reap.’, a principle which seems to come true at all levels of society, as an individual and as a nation.
King Solomon gave many warnings as to the ‘Boomerang effect of certain actions or attitudes, be they concerning people or nations. Some of them are, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”, or, “One's pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.”, and again, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” As well as, “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.
I believe in God and as such I believe in justice-- justice as the equitous retribution of evil and the reward of good. Whereas I believe in a Higher Power administering this justice, the dynamics of life sometime seem to administer their own ‘Boomerang’ reactions. As such, one’s situation in life or a nation’s state, be they rich or poor, powerful or weak, can be retraced to their former generosity or stinginess, to their arrogance or altruism.
I heard it said that it is the small hidden actions in life that define us, not the big showy ones. I think it is the same for a country. I am reminded of a little song I used to sing for my kids, “...the loss of the nail, was the loss of the shoe, was the loss of the horse, was the loss of the king, and the loss of a king was the loss of the kingdom.’ All for the loss of a nail!
As an individual; as a family; as an association; as a town; as a country; what are the things that can come back to us ? Will the cosmic boomerang of life return only to hit us in the face?
A French marquis that was raised to a grand and exalted position was known to have in his palace a room called "The Shepherd's Room". In that room were reproductions of hills, valleys, running streams, rocks, and sheepfolds. There was also a staff and rough clothing. When asked one day the meaning of this, he replied, "If ever my heart is tempted to haughtiness and pride, I go into that room & remind myself of what I once was: a poor humble shepherd keeping someone else’s sheep!” Such humility would have saved Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and many leaders of ancient and modern history.
Next week starts a special calendar period. It is the Feast of Tabernacles. It is a time when for eight days, Jewish people remember their sojourn through the desert. Many Jewish families build a small temporary shelter that either stands on its own or leans against their house. In warm countries, people often build it on the terraces or on their roof or even on their balcony. People are meant to spend some time in it each day, by themselves but preferable with family, friends and neighbors. It is meant to be a time of high rejoicing.
The whole idea is to remind the Jewish nation from whence they come: an enslaved race on a temporary voyage to a Land promised to them from times past, a journey which seems to have lasted so far 2,400 years, and is still in discussion. But. why remember? In times of success, we may tend to forget from whence we come. It is at that point that arrogance also settles in our hearts along with its relatives: pride, selfishness, anger, meanness, intolerance, ...etc. This remembrance is meant to teach people to be kind and merciful to the poor and to the stranger.
For me this is personal. After a very troubled childhood, I did what many lost and disillusioned young people of my generation did. I became a hippy roaming through Europe and the M.East. The problem with that vocation is that it is very short lived. It lasts until the age of about 25. After that, the idealism is gone and one becomes just a bum. So today, when I see people my age dirty, hungry, aimless as well as homeless in the cold and rainy streets, I remember the few people who at times showed me mercy and kindness. Remembering that this was exactly where my life was headed had it not been for divine intervention, I tell myself: “There, but by the Grace of God, go I!”
Napoleon’s retreat from Russia has gone down as the most catastrophic military fiasco in History. It was not for lack of courage, strength, and ability that the French army lost. They were seasoned soldiers who had won many military conquests. The Russians on the other hand were highly unprepared. What happened?
It is a fact of life that we learn more from defeats than we do from successes. In his book, War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy makes a good expose of the situation on both sides but I’d like to share the insight of a certain Rabbi from a lost province of Russia. When he was asked for his speculation concerning the looming napoleonic invasion, right away the abnegating Rabbi made the disclaimer that he was not a prophet, but that he would volunteer this parable.
“A nobleman driving a carriage drawn by four large horses was caught in a rainstorm. The carriage veered from the main road and the wheels sank in the mud. The man kept lashing his horses but to no avail; the horse were unable to budge the carriage.
A peasant with three small ponies soon passed by and advised the nobleman to unharness the large horses and let his ponies do the job. The nobleman was skeptical: if his four strong horses couldn’t move the carriage, what could three scrawny ponies accomplish? But the peasant insisted. As soon as the ponies were harnessed, the peasant gave one stroke with his whip and the ponies dragged the carriage out of the mud.
The astonished nobleman looked on incredulously and asked the peasant how his ponies could accomplish what four large horses couldn’t. The peasant asked him where he acquired his horses. The nobleman replied that they were bought from four of the world’s finest stables.
…”That’s the problem!” said the peasant. “Your horses are rivals and feel animosity for each other. When one is lashed, the other three are happy and don’t try to help. My ponies might be small but they are brothers. When one is lashed, the other two try to save him with all their strength. Therefore my three ponies accomplished more than your four grown horses.”
The Rabbi then explained that Napoleon’s army was comprised of many ethnic groups who have no interest in aiding each other, but that the Russian army was united behind the one goal of defending their homeland.
Even a young child can break a single reed. But a bunch of reeds together is strong and cannot be broken. In other words, as the old adage goes, “If we don’t hang together, we will surely hang separately.”
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