dimanche, août 27, 2006

The mystery of unselfishness

I grew up in a household well staffed with "do-gooders." They weren't at all santimonious, my great-aunt and grandmother...instead, they were happy reformers, always willing to believe the best, looking for what Quakers might call the "Inner Light" in others. The rest of the Jackson clan, brothers and sisters and cousins, were more or less involved in justice movements-some were Socialists, some were Trostkyites, many were staunchly committed to unions. My mother's generation, while less ambitious in its goals for bettering the world, still had its share of teachers, college professors and goverment workers. When I survey my generation, I see similar aspirations-many of us teach, travel and advocate for reform. Yet the energy and the optimism, my grandmother's gracious but powerful call to the duty of altruism, seems to have dimmed in some of us. It is not true that the times are more difficult-after all, my grandparents lived through two world wars. Possibly, as connected as we are around the world, we are overwhelmed by the magnitude of the evil in the human heart and less optimistic about our capacity to make a dent in it. Or perhaps the answers to the question of self-sacrificial goodness cannot be found in generalities, but in the enigma of specific lives. Take my friend Jackie for example. If it were not for Jackie, I (and my friends) would not be supporting home health care for Romanian children with AIDS. Jackie went over to Romania about ten years ago and fell in love with a particular Romanian child with AIDS. So much of what she has done since she met Cogneac has been done in memory of a dying child who changed her life forever. Now a widow in Rutland, VT, Jackie is most likely closing her house, leaving her neighbors, and volunteering for a year with a Catholic religious group in a home for indigent patients living with AIDS. Would I have the courage to do something like that? I don't think so. Yet if you met Jackie, she probably would not strike you initially as a remarkable woman. She, like many of us, is victim to doubts about her own capacity for having an impact on the suffering of the world. Perhaps the differenc between me and Jackie is not in her uncertainties, nor in her idealism. It may be that where I am reticent and anxious about moving forward, she, also anxious and reticent, still decides to take the next step...the one that puts her closer to humanity's suffering, closer to the foot of the cross, more intimately acquainted with the God who sees our fears, but promises to be with us in the eye of the storm and the depth of the seas. Maybe the example of women and men like my friend Jackie will inspire more of us "nervous Nellies" to reach out to those less fortunate than us. One quivering step at a time. I think God honors those baby steps.

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