There are some things that just don’t seem to want to co-exist in this world. Like heat and ice (though despite the sun’s hot rays yesterday, there were still some ice floes on the edge of the river that had not yet realized that the temperature was way past their melting point); caterpillars and butterflies (you are either one or the other); darkness and sight (cats have the distinct advantage here); politics and mercy (sorry, Greg); lions and antelopes in close proximity; hot and cold (you usually end up with lukewarm, though a hot fudge sundae is the delicious exception); fear and creativity – you get the idea.
Let me name two more things: compassion (that is, a soft heart) and strength. These are two things that I highly value, but have seldom seen in perfect balance, especially in my life. Usually those who are empathetic and emotional and kindhearted are also easily overwhelmed by adverse circumstances or conflicts or criticism. Those who have been through harsh situations often develop a certain hardness of heart in order to prevent themselves from being further affected by similar things.
I can be a strong person: I have eaten cow’s tongue, survived a motorcycle accident, walked miles in –40 degree weather, given blood 39 times; and without shedding a tear, got dressed and went to work immediately after I heard that my father was killed in an accident because I had tasks that I had to complete.
I can also be a weak person: I have been known to cry while watching a makeover show, gasp in horror at the mention of an animal being wounded, burst into tears during a political debate, and shiver at the edge of a pool for an hour before daring to jump into the deep end.
Oh to be someone who has an unshakeable strength but can still be moved by the plight of others. I hate it when I am so affected by a situation that I am rendered of little use to anyone. But I loathe the cold detachment that keeps everything under control and people at a distance. So is there a perfect meeting of the two? I believe I have seen a few examples in my lifetime: Mother Theresa and my father. I am sure you can come up with a few more on your own. If you want to, click on Comment at the bottom and tell me about them.
In thinking about it, I am convinced that one of the primary ways in which one cultivates a soft heart is to encounter difficult circumstances or pain. And I am also convinced that one of the best ways to develop strength of character is to come up against immense challenges, or pain. It seems unavoidable, but in that strange paradoxical methodology that I now recognize as redemption, it needs to be embraced. The thing I must avoid is riding empathy all the way to self-pity and an emotional wallow. On the other hand, I must not allow unfeeling determination to rule with an iron fist for it will eventually strike a blow to some innocent bystander (or myself); pure stoicism seems to render one blind in certain areas.
So what can I do? Determine to make this journey with courage and unfailing vision. And then let the sights and sounds along the way delight me, let the brave ones I meet inspire me, and never let me neglect to offer a hand, a shoulder, a dollar, a moment, a cup of cold water, whatever is mine to give, to those who are faltering.
Weakness and strength are not as diametrically opposed as we make them out to be - let them co-exist in your world.