By now, you may have read about the North Carolina judge who volunteered to serve a 24-hour jail sentence beside a veteran suffering from PTSD and who received multiple DUI citations. It is striking when one human goes out of his way to help another; especially to help a stranger. When asked why he did it, the judge recounts a story he read about a soldier with PTSD in a hole and how family and friends tried to help by throwing him a rope. But the soldier wasn’t saved until a fellow veteran jumped into the hole and told him “I’m here to climb out with you.”
I think this story resonates with me because I am as guilty as the next person in offering others my help but only doing enough to say that I tried. I don’t find myself jumping into many holes for others and proclaiming that I’m going to stay until we both climb out together.
Unfortunately, it feels like we are moving further away from each other as a society and we are more inclined to look away than we are to offer true assistance to someone in need. The issues we face as a nation are significant and they are complicated by the fact that we are increasingly becoming a people divided along political, racial and economic lines.
The burning question is how do we heal the divide. Because unless we can do that – all of our other problems such as poverty, climate change, violence, income disparity and education will only serve to widen the chasms keeping us apart. Until we can see each other as valued human beings we will continue to be defined by our differences and be less inclined to embrace what we have in common.
A Quaker friend of mine – George – offers a unique solution. When George was asked how he can remain so calm and understanding when chairing a large and contentious meeting he smiled and offered this simple answer. George said “I keep a note card in my shirt pocket. When things get tense I take the card out and read it to myself. And on the card is a simple phrase: I love everyone here.”
It is interesting that most major religions have some version of the golden rule as espoused by George: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. It is pretty clear that we are called to heal and not to divide, to be“breach menders” as we travel the path of our lives together.
Maybe we all should begin carrying around a note card saying that we love everyone here. And then, when one of our fellow travelers falls into a hole, we may be more inclined to jump in and offer to climb out together than to simply throw down a rope and let them fend for themselves.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.