I’ve been flying the peace flag for the last three days (PACE in Italian). Waking at 4 o’clock this morning I thought of the unwieldiness of such concepts as peace, generosity, and compassion. How does one turn sentiments and intentions into action? How can I, a man of ordinary capacity, make a dent in a world driven by greed and self-centeredness? Isn’t my daily vow to “save all sentient beings”?
Certainly, I can try. For instance, I can sign petitions to protest against senseless wars, send a donation to certain organizations, or place bottles, cans, and spare clothing outside my house knowing that they’ll be taken by one of the pickers patrolling the neighbourhood. But what of seeing what in front of my nose?
We had lots of snow this week. I’d just come home after a trying day at work and a slippery dance from the bus stop, when I saw a car sliding past the window: A baby-blue, spotlessly shiny, late-model Jaguar with a white-haired gent at the wheel. As my eyes tracked his progress along our unplowed street, envy and judgement arose: look at that fancy car, must cost at least $90,000, what does he know about hardship, and so on. An ancient voice, probably aroused by memories of a long-ago Christmas (see my blog of December 24) when a single orange represented a festive treat and a second pair of boots a luxury.
Next, the car stopped and, attempting to turn around, got stuck in a snow bank. I could hear tires spinning and an engine revving. Let him deal with it, the voice continued to whine, his fancy car won’t help him now, he’s trapped like any of us, bla bla. A few moments of this and another voice made itself heard: Well, what are you going to do, it asked, the man needs assistance. You cannot not help.
One changed thought changed everything. Out the door I went, grabbing a shovel as I headed towards the Jag. Gesturing the driver to turn off his engine, I picked away at the ice below his tires and dug a path for his escape. A passer-by put down his backpack and together we pushed to car free. The driver lowered his electric window, shouted “thank you, sirs,” and drove off. The two of us turned to each other, shook hands, looking pleased. A tiny change of attitude + a small act of generosity = a moment of peace on earth.