Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

"New Every Morning"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

Three months ago I broke my arm and it is finally healing, and while I certainly can't say that I am glad to have broken my arm, I can say that I have learned many powerful lessons over these days of healing- yesterday was a perfect example of what I mean.

I am now in the phase where I am going for physical therapy a few times a week. Yesterday, I was lying on a table as the therapist massaged my shoulder, and as I looked around me I was suddenly struck with an awareness of so many "tender mercies" in that room.

Extending mercies are somewhat different from "showing mercy" to someone. Mercies are "unconditional acts of kindness" extended to another without ulterior motives but simply to bring some joy, some degree of happiness or relief from suffering into the life of another person.  

As I looked around me yesterday lots of tender mercies were being passed around in that room. Sure, in one sense those therapists were just "doing their job," but it all went far beyond that.  There was so much kindness in that room. People like me showed up with sore limbs and broken bones, some in great pain, and we were met with soothing voices, generous smiles, plenty of laughter, healing touches, obvious concern - far beyond simply doing a job. 

I asked  my therapist why he got into the field of "physical therapy?" He told me that he really loves helping to heal and restore the people he meets. He looks forward to coming to work every morning.

When I left my session yesterday I realized that my arm was feeling better but more than that, my spirit had been freshened and renewed.

I am reminded of an often-quoted line from Tennessee Williams play, A Streetcar Named Desire:

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

I could write this line on a plaque and hang it on my wall because it so very much captures how I feel and what my life has been about. 

Certainly I depend upon the love of my spouse and family, my friends and colleagues, but I have also depended upon the kindness of strangers to bring me joy, happiness, the relief of suffering in my day to day living. The kindness of those therapists yesterday, the kindness of a cashier at the supermarket or a waiter at a restaurant, the kindness of that guy who lets me go ahead of him while driving on a busy highway- all of them "strangers" whose kindness I depend upon. 

In fact the more I think about it, if I pay attention to it, every day my life is graced with tender mercies - many of those mercies extended to me by total strangers. 

There is a verse in the Hebrew scriptures that I often find myself reciting when I go out into my garden every morning to greet the rising sun:

The steadfast love God never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning.

It seems to me that you don't actually have to believe in God to believe in mercies that are new every morning. All you need to do is look around you and pay attention to your life - those mercies never come to an end. 

Listen to my podcast: "Desert Wisdom"

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