There is a story about a kind, quiet man who prays in the Ganges River every morning. One day after praying, he sees a poisonous spider struggling in the water and cups his hands to carry it ashore. As he places the spider on the ground, it stings him. Unknowingly, his prayers for the world dilute the poison.
The next day the same thing happens. On the third day, the kind man is knee deep in the river, and, sure enough, there is the spider, legs frantic in the water.
As the man lifts the creature yet again, the spider asks, “Why do you keep lifting me? Can’t you see I will sting you every time, because that is what I do?”And the kind man cups his hands about the spider, lifts the spider and replies, “Because that is what I do.”I’ll admit it. Sometimes “kind” people trouble me. You know, those with that smile glued to their face. As if there’s an agenda and I didn’t get the memo. Or they need to prove a point to work off some kind of cosmic debt.
Yes, I’ve met truly kind people. My grandmother, for one. Sometimes I’m certain that her kindness saved me.
But I don’t come close to that kind of kindness. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’ve been selfish and have squandered too many opportunities. So the story of the sage and the spider seems a stretch. I do get the point… Spiders sting. Wolves howl. Ants build small hills that no one sees. And human beings lift each other, no matter the consequence, even when other beings sting.
Mark Nepo writes, “Some say this makes us a sorry lot that never learns, but to me it holds the same beauty as berries breaking through ice and snow every spring. It is what quietly feeds the world. After all, the berries do not have any sense of purpose or charity. They are not altruistic or self-sacrificing. They simply grow to be delicious because that is what they do. As for us, if things fall, we will reach for them. If things break, we will try to put them together. If loved ones cry, we will try to soothe them – because that is what we do. I have often reached out, and sometimes it feels like a mistake. Sometimes, like the quiet man lifting the spider, I have been stung. But it doesn’t matter, because that is what I do. That is what we do. It is the reaching out that is more important than the sting.“
I want to believe all of that. The difficult part is hearing and accepting the reality that each and every one of us has the capacity for bounteousness. But more often than not, I’m with Vivian (in the movie Pretty Woman), “The bad stuff is easier to believe. You ever notice that?”
Here’s the rub; I was raised in a religious environment that told me I should try harder. Should is guaranteed to weigh down any sentence, not to mention our spirits. As if kindness or compassion or generosity or big-heartedness were some kind of test or contest or beauty pageant, and God is some kind of score-keeper.
The bottom line is that the bar was raised–to perfection no less–and I didn’t measure up. Because you can never accomplish or satisfy enough shoulds, so I learned. It’s a system that works well if you are looking to make a self feel small.
Here’s the deal: What if they were wrong?
What if we are the light of the world, and that light is already inside of us–as Jesus said–and we were meant for our light to shine?
What if, as children of God, there are resources to draw upon, and we can make choices because of that reservoir?
What would happen if we would return people to the truth of who they really are?
So. Yes, there can be kindness, compassion, hope… even in this day and age. Why? Because it is what we do.
The film Invictus (Latin for unconquerable) tells the story of South African President Nelson Mandela’s first months in office–after 27 years spent in Robben Island prison. After years of apartheid, Mandela hoped for a “Rainbow nation,” where white and black could live in peace, respecting each other. The film follows Mandela’s relationship with Francois Pienaar, the captain of the national rugby team, hoping that a Springboks victory in the 1995 World Cup–hosted in South Africa–would unite and inspire the nation.
From the beginning of his term in office the black and white colleagues in Mandela’s bodyguard unit do not hide their distrust for each other.
There is a scene where Nelson Mandela tells his guard, “The Rainbow Nation starts here. Reconciliation starts here. Forgiveness starts here… And forgiveness frees the soul, removes fear. That is why it is a very powerful weapon… so please, try.”
That scene teaches me something; it is possible to surprise others with our strength.
Hope–whether from forgiveness or kindness or compassion–is not some kind of a motivational tool. You know, practice this and you’ll be successful. No… in fact, practice this and you may get stung. Because hope (kindness and compassion) and safety do not necessarily play well together. For hope plunges us into the very heart of life.
We choose hope and compassion in spite of…
We choose hope and compassion in the face of…
We choose hope and compassion, because that is what we do…
At the church picnic a little boy goes up to this really old lady, looks up at her wrinkled face and asks, “If you’re so old how come you’re not dead?” She chuckles and says, “Well I’ve thought about it. But every time I get ready to just go over and lay down and die–somebody needs a sandwich.” Maybe that’s why we pick up the spider.
Maybe that’s why we don’t quit.
Maybe that’s why we don’t give in to despair… because we still have a lot of sandwiches to make for this world.
I’ll give a 6-year-old the final word. She’s in art class, painting, her canvas a profusion of color, the subject not yet recognizable. Tactfully, the teacher asks, “What are you painting?”
“This is a picture of God,” the girl confidently tells the teacher.
“Well,” the teacher explains, “no one has ever seen God before.”
“Well,” the little girl replies, “they will when I get through.”
Easter Sunday brought sunshine to the Pacific Northwest. And when the sun shines here, it’s as if everyone is resurrected from some kind of slumber. I spent the afternoon in my garden cleaning garden beds and letting the sun soothe my regrets. Near my pond, I smiled, wondering if I would see a struggling spider. And wondering if I would have the courage to pick it up.
I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big success. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of pride.