Only the strong can set aside their personal travails to be of service to others. In so doing, they become stronger themselves. Even if forced to address their own problems unassisted, they will have greater strength to do so. A man who carries the full weight of his brother, can certainly bear his own. In this sense, helping others is helping yourself. It may not solve any of your problems, but will always bring you the requisite inner peace to overcome your personal trials.
Last year, personal problems that had no immediate solution consumed me. Addressing them demanded immense patience, fortitude and perseverance, all of which were in short supply. As I travelled down the tortuous road of life, I felt like a pilgrim in Chaucer´s Canterbury Tales, meeting other pilgrims along the way, albeit headed in disparate directions. None of them assisted me, but I did not to reciprocate in kind. Instead, I set aside my worries and asked them a simple question: “How are you feeling?”
This simple albeit magical question revealed an entire world previously concealed. We would then proceed to discuss their emotional state and the relevant life issues involved. At times, I could provide an honest assessment of their predicament and consider the possible choices involved. Other times, when they disclosed insufficient information, I refrained from doing so. Whichever the case may be, the mere fact that someone showed a sincere interest in their lives meant someone cared. Their problems were still their own, but now seen under a different light. For a moment, the burden was shared. A modicum of solace and hope was found.
One man in particular was undergoing a very painful medical treatment against his will, pressured by his entire family. Though his family had his wellbeing in mind, the man did not agree with their stance. In a matter so inextricably related to quality of life issues, the choice should be his alone, no matter how painful it might be for those around him. This was his opinion. His family disagreed.
Though I understood both sides of the debate, I could feel his pain. The times we spoke, I tried to reconcile him with his family, particularly his wife and parents, by whom he felt betrayed. I also accompanied him through the worst moments of his medical treatment, when his frailty of mind was only surpassed by the frailty of his body. Whenever we met, our conversations always began with the same question: “How are you feeling?” This same question I asked many other pilgrims I met along my journey, trying to be of service just the same.
Then one day, I stumbled along the road, and collapsed in enormous pain. Though I tried to rise again with all my might, my legs struggled in vain. In my time of greatest need, I was all alone. Those same pilgrims I helped before all passed me along the way. Only silent indifference greeted me, they passed me by as if we had never met. The refusal to acknowledge my pain is what hurt me most, not the denial of assistance. I then began to wonder if I had been a fool all along. Spending my time attending to the problems of others, while disregarding my own. Why be compassionate towards others if in the end I was all alone?
Because I had cared for others for reasons not my own. I was a strong Christian, my first obligation was to God alone. Though abandoned by others, my faith remained my home. When I rose again that day and resumed the journey I was on, I did so with a mighty strength, not entirely my own. As I look back on that day, I do so with a sigh. Despite all the hardship endured, no greater strength did I ever find. The time has come to rise again, for I have fallen to the ground. If a greater source of hope there is, I have never found.