“Is there some lesson on how to be friends?
I think what it means is that central to living
A life that is good is a life that’s forgiving.
We’re creatures of contact, regardless of whether
to kiss or to wound, we still must come together.”
Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish
By David Rakoff
St. Francis reputedly moved snails from his path. St. Sebastian died twice for God’s glory. A poet in my grad classes scoops spiders up, and drops them outside. Perhaps it’s my pride, or perhaps because I’m human, but I find it particularly difficult to let someone slap me, then turn the other cheek, never even mind the inconsequential spiders that make the fateful error of spinning webs in my domicile.
It’s not a literal slapping that wounds me; I teach college freshmen, and there are zero toddlers within a ten-mile radius. Still, I’m in a grad fiction workshop, and I’m sure you can imagine the angst that involves. And even when considering the past, and former friends who snubbed, hurt, or angered me, I can sometimes sense frustration bubbling inside. Not hurt so much as irritation. To think that I once gave them the power of intimacy! How annoying, that they may still believe their arrows rankle! These feelings are simultaneous with a desire to stab a bit at their pride with well-wrought pokers of disdain. I may imagine a cool encounter in the grocery store: “I’ve got to run, the Guild of Impressive People is waiting for me! Toodle-oo!” Or perhaps a story in which the despicable main character bears an unfortunate resemblance to the one person who reamed my work so harshly the month before.
A dear friend expressed a similar feeling a few months ago–the frustration of never having “got back her own” after a suddenly cancelled marriage. I was angry, too. Her ex-fiance had no business carrying on in life, I fumed to myself, and he probably thought his actions were so all-fired powerful. I imagined that he remembered, with a certain amount of satisfaction, how he had been so cool and strong, whereas she was mystified, crushed.
Of course, I don’t really know. And if he does strut about, self-satisfied with his power to woo and slay, woo and slay, ad nauseum, then he destroys himself. When gazing wholly upon ourselves, whether in self-loathing or self-satisfaction, we miss the wonder of the world that streams beyond our clouded eyes.
I know sometimes we think the first one to act possesses the most agency, believing the strong are those who lash out, break up, snap at, mock. My friend gave a man the emotional space to wound her, and he chose to do so. But she is the one wreathed in glory. For she, even stumbling from hurt and surprise, refused to hit back.
As the Hippocratic Oath famously states, “First, do no harm.” Our bodies are spirit and flesh bound together, and though I’m not a physician, Christ, the greatest healer, resides in me. If we Christians were to claim an oath, swear to it with our hands shaping the cross over our hearts, then surely we should speak the greatest commandments: love God, love others.
The most gracious among us live in the wake of other people’s needs, and continue to give despite cruelty, or ingratitude. Often, they give invisibly. Mothers packing school lunches with apples and napkin-notes before morning light cracks the night sky. Fathers coming home exhausted to sooth the squabbles of teenage children. The single men and women who prop up churches with book-keeping, nursery-cleaning, and prayer. The physically and mentally disabled who struggle through the social context we create everyday–the context that resists their comfort and inclusion. The stray puppies with paws on the chain-link cage doors at the animal shelter.
“The least of these” are those who have power to harm, yet temper its use through wisdom and love.
“The least of these” are those without power, who thus live in the glory of grace.
Instead of seeking to always raise our own stature, let’s delight in the least of these.