My aspirations to health and fitness often strike at peculiar times, which, along with the patience and forbearance of a faithful friend, accounts for our predicament on a wet and darkening Sunday afternoon shortly before Christmas.
The route up Mill Hill had been a (relatively) simple thing. Place one foot in front of the other, aided by my trusty walking sticks, stop often to catch my breath while friend manages to look as if she’s still enjoying the outing, place one foot in front of the other… At last, the cairn at the top. We shake the rain from our hoods, look along the brass sight lines, imagining Mt Douglas there, Mt Baker there. Now, on the way down, the trail seems to play hide and seek. It starts out easy to follow but gradually the brush above our well-worn path closes in, revealing a trail more fit for deer or rabbits. Still. If we keep going downhill we’re bound to hit the main trail. We’re dressed for the weather and if all else fails, we’ll come out to a road and make our way back to the car. At last. Here the trail looks clearer, though steeper. A fence. A house. We’ll just knock and ask for directions. Seeing us and anticipating our request, a man comes out into the rain. Yes, you can get there from here – about three kilometers along a labyrinth of local roads or if you can locate the right trail, just head through the bush. “What would you do?” asks friend. “Well,” says our benefactor, “I would hope that someone would offer to lead me to the right turning on the trail.” And goes inside to don his raincoat and collect the dog, who’s due for a walk anyway. Forty-five minutes later we’re back at the car, grateful, wet and headed for home. Just a simple act of kindness.
“Clothe yourselves with heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” – Colossians 3:12.
These words of encouragement were given to a newly formed community as a reminder of how to grow in the Creator’s image, becoming one people not bound by worldly binaries of them-and-us, good guys and bad guys; connected only by our common humanity. Cultures the world over recognize this compassionate interconnectedness as the foundation of a flourishing community. In Nuu-chah-nulth tradition it is Hishuk ish tswalk: everyone and everything is connected. Desmond Tutu calls Ubuntu the essence of being human: generous, hospitable, friendly, caring and compassionate. “You share what you have. My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours.”
So what is it that so often keeps me from that generous impulse, that will-to-kindness that my heart desires? I have concluded while occasionally it is impatience or self-centeredness, most often it is fear. Fear of the stranger. Fear of being hurt, rejected, shamed. Fear of losing what I’ve struggled so hard to accumulate. Maybe even fear of being changed. In the inner-city community where my heart and work take me – where many contend with poverty, trauma, brokenness or addictions – one might assume fear is a given. Yet surprisingly, there is often less fear among members of our community than in more affluent parts of town. What continually amazes me is not that there are occasional incidents of anger or aggression, but that there is generally so much kindness and generosity. Maybe this year I could let go of the fear that shackles me. It’s a lot more attainable resolution than getting fit.
“When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I’m old, I admire kind people.” ~ Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
Julianne Kasmer is part of the Spiritual Care Team at Our Place Society
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonost on Saturday, February 2ns 2019