Recently, after I had a terse interaction with my oldest son, my wife brought me aside and said, “I think you were a little hard on him. You really swelled up and charged into the situation with a lot of force.” It wasn’t that my son didn’t need to be corrected (he did), but the way I dealt with him didn’t express the gentleness my son needed.
The 2010 French film Of Gods and Men recounts the inspiring and tragic story of nine Trappist monks who lived in the small Algerian monastery of Tibhirine. For years, the various religious communities lived in friendship. As the political climate deteriorated, however, radical elements took advantage and gained power. The Brothers debated whether they should escape Algeria, but eventually they determined that God would not have them abandon their village. Then, after midnight on March 27, 1996, militants overwhelmed the monastery and captured seven of the Brothers, all of whom lost their lives.
One Saturday last year, my family rode our bikes to the downtown city market. Each weekend, the market takes over a parking lot and presents a diverse group of vendors’ booths. The place overflows with organic produce, baked goods, and every imaginable artisan craft creation (jewelry, paintings, woodwork, and more).
In Mumbai, India, a boy named Lakhan lives with his elderly grandmother, Sakubai. Lakhan has cerebral palsy and is deaf. With no home or family to help care for him and Sakubai, they slept on the pavement behind a small bus stop. A published photo shows 9-year-old Lakhan tied to a pole—the only way his grandmother could ensure his safety when she went out to search for work. Sakubai explained her drastic action: “[Lakhan] is deaf, so he would not be able to hear the traffic coming. If he ran onto the road, he’d get killed.” Thankfully, a group that works with special-needs children heard the story, secured a room where both grandson and grandmother could live, and helped the grandmother obtain a job.
The Great Andamanese is one of the most ancient people groups, a collection of 10 tribes tracing their lineage directly back to the first people who migrated out of Africa. These tribes have slowly dwindled over the past few centuries. One of the tribes had only one survivor remaining, Boa Sr.—a woman with no children and failing eyesight. After Boa’s husband died, she was no longer able to speak to anyone in her native language (Bo).
Austin Hatch survived two plane crashes before his 20th birthday! In 2003, a private plane went down, killing his mother and siblings. In 2011, another small plane crashed, and he lost his father and stepmother. After this second tragedy, Austin was in a coma for 2 months.
In 2014, a pod of pilot whales was found floundering in perilously shallow water off the shore of Florida in the US. Forty or fifty short-finned whales remained close to a narrow shoreline—choosing not to swim out to the deeper waters, where they would be safe. Several of the blackfish were ill, which caused conservationists to worry. Pilot whales are intensely loyal creatures, and when one in their group is sick or in jeopardy, the rest of the pod simply will not leave. They form a circle and stay close together.
I’ve endured many cycles of success and failure in my long struggle with healthy eating and consistent exercise. Whenever my efforts fail, however, it’s because I’ve succumbed to the allure of something that seemed to offer me true pleasure: another slice of apple cake with fresh maple frosting or a series of leisurely mornings where I don’t have to drag my body out to the road for another run. The truth, of course, is that poor nutrition and a lethargic body yield nothing good at all.
I once had a boss who wielded the ultimate power in our organization. It was his goal to make sure we never forgot who was in charge. Though he was successful in gaining an iron grip within our office, the net result was that this man was very lonely. How different it could have been if he had humbled himself and formed friendly relationships with his employees!
Jean Vanier was an accomplished naval officer who had recently completed a PhD, and whose family oozed with prestige (his father had been the Governor General of Canada). Yet, living in the small French village of Trosly-Breuil, Vanier was alone and downhearted. His pastor encouraged him to invite two disabled men to live with him, and L’Arche (communities where disabled and those who Vanier calls “temporarily-abled” share friendship and life together) was born. Fifty years later, L’Arche communities exist around the world.
Ihave a friend who has wounds so deep that she resists the compassionate love of others. Caring people have reached out to my friend. They would give their lives for her (in fact, in many ways they’ve done precisely that). Yet she runs from their love. She fears being loved. The love offered to her is so strong, and her heart so weak, that it terrifies her. It seems safer just to stay in her cocoon.
In 2011, marine biologists around the globe were fixated on a pod of sperm whales in the North Atlantic Ocean; they had adopted a bottlenose dolphin calf. Jens Krause, a German behavioral ecologist, told one news source that sperm whales have “never been known to mingle this closely with another species.” Apparently the young dolphin had a spinal defect and couldn’t swim fast enough to keep up with other dolphins. But surprisingly, the sperm whales gathered the struggling dolphin into their fold.
During my last year of high school, I saved up my money in order to buy extravagant gifts for my family. When Christmas came, I blew the whole $1,100 on my parents, my sister, and my grandparents. I imagined that—with college looming—I might never have the chance to be as generous with my money again.