We have come to a dark time in the history of the United States.
Over the years, I have never spoken out one way or the other about politics. This is because Unknowncountry is a home for all close encounter witnesses and everybody interested in the visitors, not just those of one or another political persuasion.
I am not advocating a particular ideology now, either. I hope that I’m wrong about what I think will happen, and that the Trump Administration succeeds in improving the lives of the elderly and relatively poor people who are the core of its rank-and-file supporters. In fact, I hope that it succeeds at every economic level to better our lives.
In my life, the visitors have been consistent about just two things: that we must protect our environment and plan for change; and that we must live out of love, compassion and humility. The most direct lesson I ever had from them was one about humility. I will never forget it. The result was that I have been working toward being a humble man ever since.
My wife Anne brought me a deep understanding of compassion, and I feel that, at this time in our national life, we need to reaffirm our commitment to it. She was not afraid to infuriate people in order to help them see themselves. Her understanding of the gospels ran very deep. She was the one who explained to me what the story of the moneychangers in the Temple meant: by wrecking their tables, Jesus was giving them a chance to see their greed.
I saw her do similar things throughout her life. She lost many a friend because of it, but she didn’t care about that. She was always confident that the soul sees even when the ego does not. But her compassion went much farther. Many a friend received a surprise gift from Anne, that came out of her careful listening to their stories and thinking about their lives. These gifts were designed to open doors, and as often as not, that is exactly what they did.
She was to the core of her soul a teacher. She taught not by saying but by doing. She always thought that compassion was the most difficult part of the spiritual jouney. It’s easy enough to give the man with his hat in his hand a dollar, and not to judge him, but it is much harder to find, for example, how to be compassionate toward one’s own pride or toward the extremely evil.
Compassion is not forgiveness. It is not generosity. It is helping others see. This is how Anne understood it, and how she taught it–not by explaining, but by both demonstrating with her life and using exemplars.
One of her favorite exemplars was Robert Frost’s poem, "Death of the Hired Man." In it, an unwanted and useless hired man shows up on the farm of a farmer who he had abandoned during the previous haying season. This was a disaster for a farmer at a time when labor is so needed and so scarce, so this man is not all welcoming, to say the least. Over the course of the poem, his wife gently and persistently helps him to find room in his heart for this man who has done him such a great wrong. Each thing she says opens another window into the mystery of compassion.
Anne and I used to enjoy reading poetry together, and this one was often her choice. She would always pause to savor the lines that are the heart of the poem, and also the deepest foundation of a compassionate life:
"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."
When the wife in the poem says this line, her husband points out that their farm is not the hired man’s home, and even that he has a wealthy brother who would be better fixed to care for him. She argues that the farm is really all the hired man has, because it would humiliate him too much to have to go and stand abject before his far more successful brother, who is a banker.
And you know, what is happening in our country now has made me reflect very much on that line. Every country is the home of those who have to go there, and the United States is no exception. But how, during this dark time, do we remain safe but also keep our door open to those who have no other place to go?
Simply saying no and pushing them aside is not the way. The American Way is to open our arms and help those who find their way to us to learn to live among us and become one of us. And we are good at it. Very good. We must not let those who use fear as a political tool dominate our national life. Instead of slamming our door, we need an intelligent and careful policy that offers those in need a real chance to join us.
In our subscriber area, I have offered a discussion of "Death of a Hired Man" that centers around Anne’s understanding of the poem. I read it just exactly as she used to do, and I hope with some of the insight that she brought to it. Click here if you are a subscriber and would like to listen.
In some ways, I am glad that she is now above what is happening here. Her tears, when they came, were very hard to bear, and I would be seeing them now if she was sitting beside me. But also there was within her a deep determination and a foundation of inner strength that always saw her through, even through the portal of death.
I think that each of us must strive to put aside our hate, our anger and our fear, and do this all the time, always trying to find the love that waits to replace them, the compassion that makes us truly human, and the humility to see ourselves and others as we are.
Strait is the gate.