Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Twenty-First Time

I was listening to a powerful song today by the group Monk and Neagle.  The song, "The Twenty-First Time", describes how the singer routinely walks by a number of people in welfare lines, sleeping in alleys, etc. and intentionally looks away.  Over time he starts to see the same people consistently.  It occurs to him one day that perhaps one of these people he is passing on a regular basis is Jesus Christ who is waiting to see if he will stop and help Him and yet he consistently looks away.

It caused me to think about the people we interact with every day on a cursory level.  I'm not talking about people whose lives are tightly entwined with ours - spouses, children, parents, siblings, business associates, etc. although often times we may be guilty of treating even these people in a casual way.

It's the majority of people we come in contact with in life - the ones we never really get to know or never meet but who we are aware of. 

It's the person who gives us a coffee at the drive-thru window every morning.  It's the person at the supermarket checkout who we make idle chatter with a couple of times per week about the weather, vacation plans and the like.  We never take the time to get to know them.  Why should we bother, we think.  They are just doing their job.

It's the politician that we feel so free to judge, waiting for them to solve every problem in our town, country or world because as we see it, the problems are extremely simple.  If the politician won't solve these problems, we conjecture, they should move over and let someone else do it.  However, we can't get involved because we are too busy.

Maybe it is the homeless person who has set up on a particular street corner.  We notice them as we drive past them, wonder for a moment what their story is and then return our thoughts to what is squeezing us today.  It's a shame the western world allows this, you think, and then your mind moves on to another subject.

It is the people who live in socially-assisted complexes, causing some of us to wonder why they can't get jobs like everyone else.  Meanwhile we are oblivious to their story and have little understanding of how they came to be there.

Perhaps it is the prostitute or the incarcerated individual that we feel so free to judge, forgetting that if we had the same genetics and life experiences, there is a good chance we would be in their shoes and being judged by someone else.

Maybe it's the crying child we see on television in an appeal for money to be sent overseas to helped the diseased and the poverty-stricken.  What a shame we think - we should make it a point to contribute more to causes like that.  Five minutes later, the cause is forgotten as we move on to deal with our own pressures.

Why should we get to know any of these people or get involved, we reason?  They are where they are, that is their business and I am in a hurry and have my own difficulties.  If I take the time to get to know every person, I will not have any time to live my Life Purpose.

Perhaps our Life Purpose is to contribute to their story and allow them to contribute to ours.

Everyone has a story.  We are so consumed writing and living our own story that we forget about the myriad of stories around us.  Many of them are far more powerful than our own but we are so consumed by our own story that we don't take time to notice the stories of others.

Many of the stories are missing a few chapters, though.  The chapters are the ones we are being asked to write, completing the story of someone else or that others are being asked to write to complete ours.

All of our stories are interlinked.  As a society, we raise our selves to new levels or diminish ourselves to new lows based on how we recognize the interdependence of our stories and whether we choose to contribute to the compendium that describes our existence on Earth.

If we increased our contribution to the stories of others by half of one percent, the results would be incredible.  A one percent increase in contribution across the board would produce a profound result.

One half of one percent is less than an hour of time per week.  For many of us who say "we don't have an hour to give", as someone who studies human productivity, I can assure you that many of us have many hours of wasted time on our hands - time that could be recovered if we were honest with ourselves and others about our priorities and how we execute towards our Life purpose.

I would like to offer a challenge to the wonderful readers of my blog.  If you have the courage, put some time on your calendar this week to do one of the following (or come up with one of your own).

1. Stop by a children's cancer clinic and ask to speak to staff, parents or children.  Ask them to tell you stories of courage, hope and love.

2. Reach out to a local prison support group or to a prison itself and speak to someone who can share the backgrounds of some of the prisoners.  Really listen to the life experiences of the people who spend time inside the institutions - prisoner and guard alike.

3. Volunteer to spend a little time in a soup kitchen or food bank and as you share nourishment with others, ask them about their story.  Listen closely - the stories are profound.

4. For those in larger urban centers, if you have not done so recently, spend some time in the more decrepit parts of town.  Take note of what is going on around you, especially when it comes to how nurturing the environment is for children.

5. Speak to a doctor or teacher and ask them to share their story with you - why they chose the profession, why they enjoy it and what presents the greatest challenges.

6. Have an honest dialog with your government representative.  Really get to know his or her world and then ask yourself if you could do better.  If you can, prepare to run for election.

7. Stop to give some food or money to a homeless person and ask them to explain their story.  Open your heart as you speak to them and listen to them.

8. OR - Insert your own challenge here.

Let's not talk about it - let's do it.

If you do it, your story will become permanently changed as others write new chapters in your story in indelible ink.  Hopefully, you will have an opportunity to do the same in their story.

If you do it, your Life Purpose may either become more solid, may change slightly or may become rewritten.

Each person in the world, including ourselves, can change the world with unique ideas, passion, skills, talents and knowledge.

Maybe others are waiting for us to finish a chapter or two so that they can become empowered to make a greater difference to themselves, their families and the world.

Maybe we are waiting for them to do the same for us.

What are we really waiting for?

Yours in service and servanthood.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks, again, Harry for your profound insights. The time I have spent in soup kitchens, feeding and talking to others has been the most moving and eye opening time ever spent. Needless to say I am the one who comes away from these interactions with the greater lessons learned.

    I am often humbled by those who are able to live in poverty with strength and faith. Who live in the consumer world we have created and never consume. These people who wear the clothes I cast off and give thanks for the food I refuse. Who travel by foot, bus and bike. Who trust one another to look after each other without resentments and bitterness. Who live in single rooms, tossed out during the day to fend for themselves in heated corners of office buildings and churches.

    Always take time to look "behind the eyes". There lurks the true story of humankind's resilience and survival.