We live on the edge of catastrophe. This is always the case, always has been. Born vulnerable and utterly helpless, we become, in the best of circumstances, less vulnerable only by degrees if we are fortunate enough to avoid early death.
Accident, illness and natural disaster perch on our shoulder, the uninvited intruder who never leaves but is mostly ignored through all our days.
This ignorance, this denial, is fundamental and necessary to our growth and flourishing as we move through life. Cowering in fear or wearing a permanent furrow on our brow is of no use whatsoever to our survival or our flourishing as conscious creatures with nearly limitless capacity for joy and fraternity.
We get up every morning expecting to see the night, with the next morning mostly the same.
Most of the time for a long time, we are lucky to be right. And sometimes, our luck runs out.
Worry, concern, even perfectly justified terror in some instances, but most always, among the great masses of HumanKind: kindness, and expressions of support and care.
The fires now ravaging Sonoma County, from where I departed less than two months ago, serve as stark, harrowing reminders of the fundamental truth of our situation. For the second time in three Octobers, fiendish, freaky winds riding on warm air have descended from the canyons, toppling trees and poles, stray sparks igniting an inferno of heretofore unfathomable destruction. Vast swaths of the population have been compelled to flee to (relative) safety, a kind of modern day Exodus without the overt religious accompaniment.
Yet religion is what we turn to in troubled times such as these. By which I do not mean, necessarily at least, organized religion with church properties, clergy and all its other trappings.
However much certain religious institutions may shine in such times of greatest human need, the religion I have in mind is of a more foundational level: It is the religion, in the Dalai Lama’s words oft-repeated by others, of “kindness.”
It is almost everywhere one looks and in every face one sees in times of trial. Worry, concern, even perfectly justified terror in some instances, but most always, among the great masses of HumanKind: kindness, solidarity, and expressions of support and care. Material by hand and heart when possible, emotional-spiritual by heart when it’s not. The examples are legion; no need to elaborate them.
Whether we’re ill at home, evacuating from disaster or taking stock on our deathbed, what do we most respond to?
The touch of a human hand, words of care, assurance we are seen, and cherished. Simple, baseline religion, encompassing its foundation in love, and wholly of this world.
Easy to understand, nothing complicated to believe in, no litmus tests for practicing it, receiving it, passing it on.
Those who practice kindness do not ask for the political affiliation, ancestry or past good works of the recipient, nor do recipients ask of those from the giver.
“Smiles are free, pass them on,” goes the well-known bumper sticker.
And in those smiles, just as surely as in the fears we share and which almost invariably beget words and touches of reassurance, we see the best of our fellow humans, the best of ourselves, the perfect mirror of our togetherness, our true oneness, held up before us, its message writ large:
You are not alone.
You are loved.
The true kingdom of God is within you and your fellow humans. And it is free for the sharing.
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Andrew, the summer that song came out I was working in a day camp for physically and mentally disabled kids. Camp was the best time of year for many, if not most of those kids, and they loved that song.
The counterweight to Taylor’s still amazing “Fire and Rain”?
Hi Drew, Rebecca Solnit wrote a book about this compassionate response arising in the immediate aftermath of many disasters. It’s called A Paradise Built In Hell.
Glad you noted the song, David. “Fire and Rain” had been the from-top-of-my-head choice, but finally opted for the less emotionally complex “…Friend.” Great songs, both; I feel like I’m just beginning to better understand what a great songwriter and artistic force Taylor is. Though I of course have been aware of and sung along with him for decades now, for some reason, I paid much less attention to him than I did others. Chalk it up to basic cluelessness, I suppose…
Jeffrey, wasn’t aware of that title, will have to look it up, thanks. Solnit is a longtime favorite, though, even wrote about her walking book years ago. http://andrewhidas.com/walking-and-wandering/
Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” demonstrates the precarious relationship between kindness and sadness. The last stanza summarizes so beautifully the necessity of kindness (“Bright before me the the signs implore me/To help the needy and show them the way/Human kindness is overflowing) to overcome sorrow. But sometimes it’s just not enough (And I think it’s going to rain today). Still kindness above all else breathes life into the hope that things will in the end be alright.