I started by sharing this story that had gone around Facebook. From the Huffington Post:
A tiny bit of compassion can have a huge impact.That picture is above. My friend John alerted me to this story. He sent it to me in a text with a simple note: "This is Jesus."
Two weeks ago, Ehab Taha, a 26-year-old from Canada, was riding public transit in Metro Vancouver when a large man he described on Facebook as “suffering from drug abuse and\or mental health issues” became aggressive in his train car.
The man was alarming fellow passengers “with erratic movements, cursing, shouting” until a 70-year-old woman decided to reach out and help him by extending her hand and grabbing his. The sweet gesture soothed the man. Eventually he sank to the floor of the train as tears flooded his eyes.
"It was quite incredible how much he calmed down in a split moment,” Taha told HuffPost Canada. “It was the most touching thing I've ever seen.”
Moved by “the incredible display of humanity,” Taha snapped a picture of the two holding hands and posted it to Facebook.
After reading the story I asked the students, "Why do stories like this go viral?"
They go viral, I argued, because we see the kingdom of God in stories like this. When we see something like this it feels so right, so good. This, we say, is what the whole world should be like.
And yet, far, far too often we take a pass on kindness. Yes, this is the way the world should be. Yes, this is the way we should be. But we don't practice kindness. Much to our and the world's determinant.
To bring that point home I read novelist George Saunders' convocation speech at Syracuse University about what, looking back, he regretted most in his life:
What do I regret?
Being poor from time to time? Not really. Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?” (And don’t even ASK what that entails.) No. I don’t regret that. Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked? And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months? Not so much. Do I regret the occasional humiliation? Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl? No. I don’t even regret that.
But here’s something I do regret:
In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.” ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.
So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” – that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”
Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.
And then – they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.
One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.
End of story.
Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.
But still. It bothers me.
So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.