Monday, June 24, 2013

Hope for the Human Race

  Hope for the Human Race

Have you seen the heroic lately?

It might have appeared, crossed your path, sat at your table, shared your space.  You may have seen it, or just as easily you may have missed it. There may not have been any fanfare or attention called to certain heroic acts occurring around you. Someone is ill; they make no remark but instead ask how you are. A person has suffered an unbearable loss, yet spends their time lifting up others. A friend has worries, still they give you their smile and set an example of cheerfulness. On reflection, I become aware of so many instances of heroism or greatness. Some acts are fleeting, and some are a glimpse of a continuum where ordinary people are doing the things they have chosen to do, and the things they feel they must do. The commitment with which they do these things makes them extraordinary acts. 

An example of this is apparent if you spend time around the world of a small child and watch those who care for them.  In its simplest context this is perhaps banal, ordinary, the stuff of life continuing as it always has. There is nothing immediately recognizable as heroic going on. But the activity you observe around children reveals much about people and their connection to others. 

With everything we are pursuing, busy adults can be prone to impatience and a failure to account for others' impulses, differences, weaknesses, and needs. We make plans, and in our individual pursuit of them we might assume we will accomplish those plans just so, starting at this time, and ending at that time. For many reasons this can't always be so. Around the daily needs of children, this kind of planning is a house of cards, collapsing, going off-schedule as a matter of course. Routines, yes. Structure, sure. You work toward providing a sense of stability.  But there is the need to let go of the idea of a predictable march of events, when you keep pace with a child. 

I see it as real maturity when someone can keep pace with a young child, meet their needs, and let go of the relentless feeling that so much more should be getting accomplished at that same moment. It is a mark of character to my mind when an adult can slow down and accept this different pace. A saying I grew up with was: "Let there be chaos in little things, so that we may have order in greater things." Recognizing what takes precedence is our challenge. Which is the greater thing? Can we tolerate necessary chaos, and see which are the little things that can be left behind? Or will we push ahead, demanding order absolutely everywhere, in spite of the folly of that demand?

We naturally expect the bond of a parent to their own child to produce this kind of maturity and impulse to care. As a society, we must also hope that we can foster this kind of maturity in the larger community. Between people who know each other, and between people who do not. Among those who have children, and those who do not. There is the "it takes a village" sentiment; I like to think that can take us a long way toward doing better. When I see the 'village' at work, it gives me hope for the human race. It's not hard to see that this kind of compassion and fellow-feeling can transfer to all kinds of encounters, not just those between adults and children. 

I'm fortunate to know family, friends, neighbors, and a life partner who seem to get this right. It's an up and down process, we find out what works by living, doing, trying, and reflecting.  I'm grateful to the heroes in my life. To watch a tired athlete climb out of a comfortable chair and work in the hot sun, making a safe space for a friend's toddlers to play. To see my sister wordlessly grab the dirty dishes and clean them because that's just what was needed at that moment. Watching someone's older child take the hand of someone else's shy younger one, make their acquaintance, and build a gentle trust with them. There is the mother who sets aside for a moment (so many moments) the pursuit of her own interests, and moves at the pace of her child that needs her. The father who sees this, and creates a window of time for the mother. The mother in turn will step in for him. Sometimes the need is exhausting.  Or frightening, when you can't figure out what they need. 

I know these aren't outright acts of heroism: they are instead the behaviors we would hope accompany all human interaction. Still, because it isn't always so, to me those who do such things create a culture of heroism.  I'm touched to know that everyone in this strange and serendipitous cast of characters that is my 'village' is capable of these and other selfless acts.