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Am I My Brother's Keeper?

by UNC Contributor
Milan Marjanovic/iStock/Thinkstock
 

It seems so easy today to become engrossed in our own affairs where we lose sight of our duty to our fellowman. In the rat race to make ends meet and our pursuit of ‘the good life’ (defined today as he who gets the most toys) we forget that real contentment comes from not only obeying God as He directs, but also in applying the command to love our neighbour. Helping a neighbour where needed, can be a sure source of true peace and fulfillment.

Deep down in the vast majority of us is the desire to make a difference, but the preoccupation with our own pursuits and interests can stymie that noble intention. This is a mistake. For it is indeed not the one who dies with the most toys who wins, but rather it’s the spiritual character we are building that counts.

Ways to help others

The world is full of needy people and we don’t have to look very far to find someone in need of a helping hand. Who among us is not moved with compassion when we see images of starving children in faminefilled and war-torn third-world countries? Anyone can take the time to seize the opportunity to engage in random acts of kindness and compassion, however small, for the good of a neighbour, whether in the far regions of Africa or just down the street. Jesus gave us the parable of The Good Samaritan , and defined our neighbour as anyone in need. Feast-goers in St. John’s did so this past fall by a contribution to LifeNets.

Helping neighbours in need hit home for me on September 11, 2001– that tragic date seared in many North American memories.

Here is how it happened. As a school teacher, while reading a classic story to my sixth graders in a small school near Gander, Newfoundland, we were suddenly interrupted by the sounds of jet engines overhead. Next thing I knew, I was informed by one of my colleagues that the World Trade Centre had been hit by two passenger airliners and another had crashed into the Pentagon.

Suddenly the routines of our school changed in a moment with the buzz of news reports that these disasters may have been the result of a terrorist attack on our neighbour to the south. All teachers and students quickly gathered into the gymnasium to watch the horrific scenes unfold before our very eyes. Some wept while others held hands and hugged each other for support and comfort. We also learned that all airports in the U.S.A. were shut down and incoming international flights to America were being diverted to Canada.

Shortly afterwards we were informed that Gander had received more than six thousand stranded passengers. The next day many residents in the surrounding area rallied together in support. Five schools were shut down and make-shift shelters were set up. Free hotel rooms were made available and people opened up their homes to welcome anyone who needed a hot meal, a good bath and a place to stay.

Our school was designated as a supply centre for towels, soap, blankets, pillows and a host of other life necessities which poured in quickly. Free telephone and Internet services were provided for travellers to get in contact with loved ones.

 

Counselling services were set up to assist anyone traumatized by the tragedy. For seven days the town of Gander and surrounding communities opened their arms and hearts to strangers. By the time the last plane took off, many had become friends with lasting bonds.

There is an old saying, "those who help others, help themselves." Certainly this held true for us during the events on 9/11. In our attempts to help stranded passengers feel a little more at home in the midst of trouble in their homeland, we brought ourselves together in the spirit of oneness and community.

What prevents our serving when needed?

Sometimes, fears make us hesitate to approach a stranger. The fear of the unknown and hesitation to get involved causes a great deal of coldness in the world. This results in a certain degree of timidity; a kind of mindset of ‘being too afraid to do anything’ which avoids the needy. Had we turned a blind eye to these stranded passengers in Gander, then I’m afraid another tragedy would have occurred far beyond the Twin Towers – the tragedy of indifference and insensitivity. Is it not incumbent upon us to try to break the barriers of indifference and strive to reach out when needed? Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount ‘to do unto others as we would have others do unto us.’

It is true that government welfare takes care of many needy. But social services cannot get into the nooks and crannies of the many small but important human needs. It can often be up to us as neighbours to fill in the gaps, to keep some people from falling through the cracks and provide that personal touch in lending a helping hand. Helping others when the need is there is a great way to fulfill being our ‘brother’s keeper.’

If I have striven to serve others when the need is there, then when asked whether I am my brother’s keeper, I can confidently answer, “most certainly I am.”

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