Friday, July 1, 2011

I Shall Not Live In Vain

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

-          Emily Dickenson

When did we stop living like this?  When did we begin to say to ourselves, “It is not my problem” or “Sounds like a personal problem to me?”  When did we begin to shut our eyes to injustice and harden our hearts to mercy?  At what point do we stop ourselves and begin to see that one life is worth the making?

This week I talked to an old friend from college who had started to read my blog and thought I was unhappy in my singledom.  Let me squelch this for you all, for I am quite content with my singleness.  I love that I can live to my schedule and do and eat what I like to do and eat.  I enjoy getting to know who I am without the influence of others trying to pull me their direction.  I love the freedom.  I love the possibility.  But knowing this, I am not so na├»ve as to think a fulfilling life is lived alone.  For, as the great poet says, man is not an island, and I must add neither is woman (no matter how much we try to fool ourselves).

This conversation was juxtaposed to another I had with a friend whose family has been dealt what she thinks an injustice.  Her heart was breaking, and having watched my family go through a similar situation, my heart was hardened to her protest.  How cruel I was.  I took my arrogant stance and voiced my opinion, which was contrary to hers.  Unbeknownst to me, I offended her by “just being myself” (her words).  In her pain she inflicted pain on me, unbeknownst to her. 

This small injustice we did each other comingled with the idea of singledom and contentedness turned my mind toward grander things.  I thought of the poverty that runs rampant in America, which I can see even here in Orange County.  I thought of the 27 million humans trafficked every day into slavery in the $32 billion dollar sex and slave trade.  I thought of thousands of Muslims who have been poorly treated because of events they did not control.  I thought of the children in my friend’s classroom who are bullied by a broken hearted child. 

We are so blind and selfish. We see only what we want to see and do only what we want to do.  We react and seldom act, we fight for self-centered causes and act as conceited prats to most.  We believe that if we cannot see it, it must not exist.  When did we stop paying attention?  We did begin to believe that this ok? 

Last week I talked about guarding your heart, and contrary to my friend who thinks I am not content with my lot as a single, I think the guarding your heart is only part of the problem.  When we limit ourselves to our social order, or circle of friends, we limit our ability to meet angels and mend a broken hearted world.  There is so much potential for good in this world if only we will stop fooling ourselves into thinking we are good people and do good things.  We are nothing if we do not act, we have nothing if we do not love. 

I pray I leave a legacy like Ms. Dickenson’s poem.  I pray my legacy in one that mends the broken hearted, eases life’s aching for another, cools pain in another.  I pray that I see the end of the slave trade in America. I pray that I see the end of stony hearts brandishing their blessing in faces of the less fortunate. I pray that one day I will hear how thankful the rest of the world is for watching our model of humility, dignity, grace, and charity.  I pray that one day we will go back to our roots and remember that we are not now, nor ever will be, perfect.  And it is because of our imperfection we are able to empathize with those who suffer at the hands of the unjust. 

After all, as Edmund Burke reminds us, “All it takes for evil to prevail, is for a good man to do nothing.”  Remember that this Independence Day as you sit beneath those colorful fire works displayed in remembrance of the injustice we fought to become this great nation.  Remember as you sit with your friends and family around that BBQ what this holiday is truly about…justice prevailing against a greedy tyrant. Remember that so that those good and faithful will not have died in vain for our self centered arrogance.  


  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You speak such simple truths: help often, act thoughtfully, see with intention, care always. These are the cornerstones for a rich life. So often we are distracted by the daily grind of our lives, the turmoil and pain and joys that make up our own moments that we forget to reach out to others. We all need someone to remind us, to stand vigilant and guide us back to being the helpful, kind hearted persons we aim to be. Thank you!

  2. I try to remind myself often, sometimes I think that is what these are for: for me to remind myself why I was placed on this earth. If in that process I can help others, then I a have not endeavored in vain.