A Far, Far Better Thing…

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known. – Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities)

Once upon a time there was a jerk, a grinch, a curmudgeon, a tightwad, a wet blanket, a gossip, a liar, a thief, a sleaze, a butt-kisser, a braggart, a cheater, an abuser, a slanderer………This person was on a trip, blissfully going about their business, when they were attacked and mugged (not only mugged but carjacked). Beaten severely and left for dead, this unlovely does-not-play-well-with-others individual lay in a gutter, wounded, humiliated, forgotten. Who do the unwanted call to say they are on this or that road and leaving at such-and-such time? This was a tight spot, for sure.

Eventually, someone did pass by who could help. A doctor, returning from his long day at the office, listening to a book on tape, something by Michael Crichton, a gift from his wife, eagerly awaiting a hot dinner and the chance to put his feet up and forget about everyone else’s issues and complaints for a time. He sees a body lying next to the road. He stops, dreading the obligatory call to the coroner and sheriff’s office for what was surely a poor departed soul. The doctor wearily pulls to a stop and gets out of his car to take a closer look. With much relief, he sees that this person lying near the road is not dead, but severely wounded. As he bends to examine the person’s face, the wounded person turns and the doctor recognizes them with a shock! This is someone who has been responsible for much pain and sorrow in the doctor’s life. He CANNOT help this person! He WILL NOT help! With renewed vigor, the doctor jumps to his feet, scrambles for the car, and without a backward glance, drives off down the road.

The wounded person cannot believe what has just happened to them!  Groaning, they try, unsuccessfully to rise. Lacking the strength, they rest their head back upon the ground, just as the sound of another car draws near. This time, the car belongs to a town counsel member, who also happens to lead a ladies’ Bible study at her church. Surely this woman will have compassion and help. Like before, the car slows to a stop. Like before the wounded person hears the crunching of gravel as the upstanding and concerned MAAD member and PTA attender who recycles all her cans and bottles and bundles of newspaper crosses the space toward the person lying in the dirt.  And yet, like before, as the woman leans over to look into the face of this wretched individual left in the dirt, there is a flash of recognition and her lip curls in disgust. This is a woman who wants to make a difference in the world! How could she maintain her reputation not to mention her precious schedule and plans for the evening, a dinner date with her husband for their 26th anniversary, if she gets involved with this person who has made the most irresponsible, immoral choices for years?? It’s no wonder they have come to be in a situation like this! They’re just getting what they deserve. Karma, and all that. The woman stands up, dusts off her dry-clean-only pants, hurries back to her car, and quickly drives away.

The light is fading from the sky. The person in the dirt can feel the cool damp of dew and the chill of evening settling on their body. Feeling desperate, they wonder what is to become of them. Head still spinning from the rejection of two people who had every means at their disposal to help. What would it cost them in the long run? How could it possibly harm them to help? Was their life so without value that the thought of helping them out of a bad situation was seen as a weak and foolish waste of time and trouble, an inconvenience rather than a sign of compassion and mercy?

A low motor rumble approaches and a beat-up ice cream truck comes into view. The headlights show the injured person and the brakes screech as the truck comes to a halt. An pimply, gawky teenager approaches the helpless individual laying beside the road. This time, it is the one on the ground who is shocked by recognition. For here is someone who is alarmingly unpopular and painfully awkward in school and out. No one has time for this kid, or much compassion. This teen is humiliated and teased on a regular basis, the target of bullies, and insensitive adults alike. Yet, this time, there is no raised eyebrow and hurrying away. There is no spray of gravel as the scene of the crime is left as-is, victim and all. This time there is a brow furrowed in concern. The teen’s jacket is removed and placed under the wounded person’s head. Questions are asked: Who? When? Why? How? How long? Followed by a more painful: Has no one seen you all this time? Why has no one helped you? The giant ice cream cone rotates on the top of the truck as slowly, painfully, the teen struggles to help the wounded person into the truck which then carries this pair to help and comfort and safety.

Who, in this story, is really unlovely? Who is an ideal citizen, a contributor? Who makes a change for the better? Who is a hero? Who is a villain? This obvious spin-off of the Good Samaritan is orchestrated to be vague on purpose. Who do we view as upstanding citizens? Who do we view as not worth our time? Luke 10:25-37 gives us the conversation Jesus has with one of his many challengers. His challenger on this occasion: an “expert in the law”. Funny how in the parable, Jesus uses two different examples of so-called “experts in the law” who followed the letter of the law, but not it’s spirit. These were fine, upstanding citizens, who wouldn’t stand up for anything or anyone unless it personally benefited them. How sad that we find ourselves surrounded by the self-same “do-gooders” who rarely, if ever, do anyone any good. Instead of being “important” or “popular”, perhaps we should all strive to be compassionate, merciful, forgiving, humble, kind, and unselfish. How can we behave this way in a world where every other person seems out to get us? There is only one thing that can motivate and save us. Only one thing can make us the kind of people that other people want to know. One thing, alone, can save the lost and heal our hurts: LOVE.

“IF I [can] speak in the tongues of men and [even] of angels, but have not love (that reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God’s love for and in us), I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), and understand all the secret truths and mysteries and possess all knowledge, and if I have [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but have not love (God’s love in me) I am nothing (a useless nobody). Even if I dole out all that I have [to the poor in providing] food, and if I surrender my body to be burned or in order that I may glory, but have not love (God’s love in me), I gain nothing. Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily. It is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong]. It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail. Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening]. Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end]. As for prophecy (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), it will be fulfilled and pass away; as for tongues, they will be destroyed and cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away [it will lose its value and be superseded by truth]. For our knowledge is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect), and our prophecy (our teaching) is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect). But when the complete and perfect (total) comes, the incomplete and imperfect will vanish away (become antiquated, void, and superseded). When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside. For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God]. And so faith, hope, love abide [faith–conviction and belief respecting man’s relation to God and divine things; hope–joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation; love–true affection for God and man, growing out of God’s love for and in us], these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13 (Amplified Version)

The Chosen Road

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost (American poet, 1874-1963)

That is a poem I memorized and took to heart when I was a junior in high school. For all the many varied and diverse roads I have traveled since then, I think I would have to agree with Mr. Frost in some regards. There are many thing you could have done that you chose not to do, and those things, taken together with the things you chose to do have shaped you to be the person you are today.

Some roads we find in life are straight and sure, free from debris and any visible threat or danger. They stretch on and on with little change or drama. Many people travel these roads, for mile upon uniform mile. These roads can seem tedious, and surreal, like you’re not actually going anywhere at all. After one hour, two, five, ten, the distance seems as distant as it did before. It seems you’ve made no progress at all. You sometimes think this MUST be the wrong way. You should have gotten somewhere by now, right? Eventually, though, you find that it was the right road after all; and thank goodness you stayed on track all the time it took! These roads seem to take up the majority of the journey.

Other roads are full of bends and sharp corners and shrubs in the middle of the path. There can be downed trees, or rock slides, or animals in the road! There are cave-ins, pitfalls, potholes, and brambles to fight our way out of and through. This road can be exciting, but it is never safe to let down your guard completely. It’s enough to make your hair turn grey! So much to see along the sides of the road, but you dare not take your eyes from in front of you! This is white-knuckle-way, Baby! You’d better fasten your seat belts here! Thankfully, these roads don’t last as long as they seem they will .

Still other roads we take are much slower, over roads that meander from side to side, and up and down over hillocks and through meadows. It’s so easy to get lost on these roads, and no trouble at all once it’s happened. These kinds of roads are full of change and surprise, but rounding a corner brings something delightful and new, some new perspective to consider. On these roads we encounter sunny glens, foamy river rapids, mountain peaks, the scent of orange blossoms, and enchanted forests we want to get lost in and never come out of again! Traveling down this road is never a trial or, unfortunately, very long.

“In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his title. Do not lose your knowledge that man’s proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.” Ayn Rand (Russian born American Writer and Novelist, 1905-1982)

The path you are traveling leads to a place you have never been before, the future, that unknown, strange, and mysterious thing. Don’t think that the ways you have been down up until now are the ONLY ways. That would be as silly as saying the people you have known up until now are the ONLY people. It  may seem, at times, as though you were fenced in, prohibited from choosing  any other road but the ones you have already traveled. Just keep in mind, that sometimes to get somewhere new, you have to hop a fence, or swim a river, or climb a mountain. There is a lot of work in making new roads. Think of new sights, smells, flavors, feelings, loves that you will never know until you build those roads.
“When all’s said and done, all roads lead to the same end. So it’s not so much which road you take, as how you take it.” Charles de Lint (Celtic folk musician and story teller, b.1951)
No matter what road you have had the fortune, or misfortune, to travel, always there has been someone who walked the same road or a more difficult road. You are not in this world alone. No matter what the catastrophes and terrors and tragedy, there are many who have overcome these obstacles and lived triumphant afterward. Your road can be as new as your very next step. This life is full of another chance, and another, and another. The road you finally travel, is the road you CHOOSE to travel, and none of us has to walk alone.

“In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’ “They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill. They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water. I will turn all my mountains into roads, and my highways will be raised up. See, they will come from afar —some from the north, some from the west, some from the region of Aswan.” Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Your children hasten back, and those who laid you waste depart from you.”  Isaiah 49: 8-17