An Act Of Kindness...
AN ACT OF KINDNESS
I am a voracious, nearly insatiable reader. I spend far too much time at it. But I could have far worse habits, don't you think?
But I must admit, I don’t read many books of late...fearful perhaps of unwittingly adopting or taking on another writer’s style. I have worked hard and invested many hours in developing my singular and unique writing voice. For the most part I am happy with it. I love to talk with my readers...not at them. I am thrilled when they get involved in this on-going conversation. It validates me.
So what do I spend this inordinate amount of time reading?
Stories and tales and articles of the human condition. I love the prizes and surprises I find discovering the things people do and say and the way they act when pushed into circumstances and situations outside their control. The two little nuggets I am going to share with you today demonstrate unconditional love still exists in this world. Please...allow me to share them with you.
Not so long ago it seemed the entire state of California was ablaze with wildfires. It seemed that the environmentalist best intentions to protect a scant few creatures placed an enormous number of other animals (and humans) in harms way. Once the fires began, they violently swept through the dry, unattended forests like...well, like a forest fire!
Many people died. Many are missing. Billions of dollars of damage was caused and untold number of defenseless animals suffered horrifying and needless deaths. In the midst of all that horror and the ensuing anger, came a story of unconditional love.
A firefighter was walking through a part of the forest where the inferno had already passed. There was nothing left but the charred landscape. His job was to assess the damage and look for any hot spots that might be lingering. But what he eventually found both sickened him and amazed him at the same moment of discovery.
Perched on the ground at the base of a charred tree, he found a bird, literally petrified and reduced to charred ashes...like a victim that was found at Pompeii after the famous eruption of Vesuvius.
What he saw disturbed him greatly, to the point he could no longer look at it. Not wanting anyone else to have to see it either, he knocked it down with the walking stick he was carrying.
To his utter amazement, when he struck the pile of ashes, three tiny chicks scurried out from under their dead mother’s wings and ran right to his feet.
As his eyes filled with tears upon retelling the story, he confesses he was without words for a few moments. He reached down to scoop up the three chicks.
“Now they were safe in my arms,” he recounts. “Their loving mother must have known of the impending disaster. She carried them to the base of the tree and gathered them under her wings."
The mother bird could have flown to safety but she didn’t. That’s not what mothers do. She refused to abandon her babies and would die for them in their place. With the blaze ripping through the dry brush of the forest floor, the heat melted her feathers, scorching and searing her small body. It must have caused her excruciating pain...yet she remained steadfast, intent to die so those beneath the cover of her wings would live.
This is an incredible story, isn’t it? Wait until you hear the next...
The second story is about a man whose name was Ahmed Shah. At one time, several decades ago, he was a very famous ruler of Afghanistan.
It is hard to believe that any positive or uplifting story could come out of that God-forsaken wasteland. And while the one I am about to tell you is borderline positive or uplifting, but falls into the category of unconditional love, no different than the story of the mother bird and her babies.
As it still is today, Afghanistan was a nation wracked by war...a land of conflicts among and between tribal leaders. Ahmed Shah was the leader of one of those tribes and his position carried with it great power as well as great responsibility. It was his only wish to bring peace to his people.
Now the way legend has it is, Shah led the people of his tribe into a secret valley...one that he had discovered on his many travels around the country. In this secret valley was a vast and fertile plain, bordered on all sides by sheer cliff faces. There he envisioned his people could settle, live in peace and thrive. It was there he bravely led them.
But to protect their new territory and the peaceful way of life they might lead there, he commanded that no one reveal the hidden passage through the steep mountains leading into the secret valley.
For years, Ahmed Shah and his people lived in peace, undiscovered by the rival tribes. But one day Shah was approached by one of his lieutenants. The man was shaking and trembling, obviously nervous and worried with the news he was bringing to his leader...
“Emir,” he said to Shah. ” I bring you this news with the greatest of regret. We’ve caught someone revealing the location of the secret passage into our valley.”
Shah became enraged, demanding to know which of his people had betrayed him. The lieutenant was frozen in fear...dreading what he would need reveal to his beloved leader.
“Emir,” he said to Shah again. ”I regret to inform you that it was your mother. I believe her intentions were innocent, but her actions have endangered us all.”
When Shah heard the traitor was his own mother he fell to the ground, weeping and becoming distraught...overcome with sorrow!
“She is in our custody, “the lieutenant said. “What would you have me do with her Emir?”
He paused before speaking again...
“What ever you decree will be my duty to carry out.”
Ahmed Shah was an experienced leader and he knew full well once the other tribes learned of their secret valley, peace would come to an end. He realized the severity of the decision before him. His mind ran wild...
“I could release my mother, kill the soldiers who captured her and the ones holding her in prison,” he thought to himself. “I could hush the whole matter up by killing this lieutenant who brought me the news.”
But Shah knew that all chaos would break loose once word of this got out. His people would revolt and overthrow him.
“I cannot decide at this moment,” he said to the lieutenant. “I will need to think this unfortunate matter over throughout the night. Make her comfortable and I will summon you in the morning. Then I will inform you of my decision.”
No sleep was to come for Shah that night. When morning arrived, he called for everyone to gather in the middle of the village. As he people stood waiting for him to speak, he announced what had happened and what his decision must be...
“What my mother has done is treason,” he began, “she must be punished in accordance with our law. Our law requires her to be tied to a post and to publicly receive one hundred lashes.”
The people gasped, knowing such a punishment would almost certainly mean her death. They stood quietly as the woman was marched out, her arms and body bound to a whipping post.
The first two lashes of the punisher’s leather strap came quickly. Instantly she was bloodied. Her knees buckled and she hung in agony by the ropes binding her to the post. The next two lashes brought tears to Ahmed’s eyes...
“Stop!” he shouted. “I can bear this no longer.”
The punisher put down his whip and Shah ran to his mother. He untied her and carried her broken body to his home where he laid her upon his bed. He instructed his wives to tend to her and then he went back out among his people. Arriving at the whipping post, he demanded that no one move.
“I have something to say to you,” he said to the crowd. “The penalty for my mother’s crime was one hundred lashes. She has paid with four of them. I will pay the other ninety-six.”
By the end of his punishment Ahmed Shah himself was at death’s door. His body had been beaten, bloodied and bruised. His face was so distorted in pain he could no longer be recognized. His body was untied and he was carried to his home.
For weeks it was unclear if he would survive. But he did...he did survive. And his people never forgot his act of loyalty to them or the loving grace he showed to his mother.
These are two simple stories of unconditional love. If you were not moved by them there must be something lacking in your heart.
The human condition in these days is affected by all types of pushes and pulls...from our emotions, our upbringing, our personality, temperament, ego and our life experiences. This is what makes us who we are...but it also makes us imperfect and quite fallible.
In these days, we have become a society of selfish and self-absorbed individuals...seeking instant gratification for the most nihilistic of reasons. I often wonder if we, as a species, can rise above all this and actually love someone unconditionally? I wonder, and I truly worry, if we are still capable of it.
It is one thing to wax philosophically about what we believe is or is not possible, concerning the human condition. But until we are thrown into the fire, like the mother bird, we have no way of knowing how we will respond in the moment. The test of true and unconditional love is simple...
Could and would you still love someone who does something incredibly hurtful to you or leaves you or betrays you when we need them the most?
Could you still care about them and want the best for them?
Could you sacrifice yourself in their place?
It is a test we all may well face at one time or another. Most of us are not prepared for it...maybe we never will be.