Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Seeing with the Heart

Thirty years ago a gentle, retiring man named Stan moved from Seattle to our desert city. About 50 years old, he married a shy young woman, and they moved into a small apartment. With few job skills, Stan struggled to find work but eventually secured employment as a street sweeper. He worked hard at his job but seemed exhausted after he returned home each evening.

Then, the persecution began. Neighbors complained that Stan wasn’t ambitious enough, that he needed to find a better-paying job. His wife told her friends and family that she disliked her husband because his job was so menial. Even some church members joined in the persecution, belittling Stan publicly and privately.

One day Stan purchased a revolver and shot himself while lying on his bed.

Before the funeral, I spoke to his brother and sister, who told me than Stan was a veteran of the Korean War. His Army boots wore deep wounds into Stan’s misshapen feet, and his feet were easily injured. The undertaker told them that Stan had open, bloody wounds on both of his feet.

A speaker at the funeral said that Stan regularly visited residents in a nursing home. He played his harmonica for them and befriended the lonely. They said Stan made a difference as he served the sick and the dying. As they described Stan’s compassion and goodness, I wished that I had taken the time to get to know him, to understand him, to love him. He could have taught me so much.

It’s so easy to misjudge others. We sometimes assume that others don’t meet our expectations., that they aren’t doing enough, accomplishing enough, aren’t good enough. We may look at the outward appearance and fail to see the heart—a heart filled with beauty, longing, and sometimes great pain. Helen Keller said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched--they must be felt with the heart.”

The Little Prince is one of my favorite books. Written by Antoine de Saint Exupery at the beginning of this century, it describes the path to wisdom and enlightenment. The author writes, "It is only with the heart that one can see; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

I try to judge less and love more since Stan’s death. Sometimes I do fairly well; other times I fail miserably, but I’ve discovered that as I accept and love others, I feel much better about myself as well. Karma, casting your bread upon the water, the Golden Rule—however, we see the world, it is true that the love we share returns to us, sometimes in unexpected and surprising ways.

© Carol Brown

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