Kindness like fountain filtering time for the better

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 21, 2010

Like a river that flows through some amazing filtration system, so time flows through us, its filters, in its inexorable journey toward yesterday. What will those yesterdays be like because time has flowed through us? How will we have influenced its quality for better or for worse?

This line of thought developed out of last week’s column on random acts of kindness. Many of our coffee companions responded with accounts of their own encounters with kindness.

Two readers spoke of a time when, expecting an eviction notice because they couldn’t pay the rent, they were treated to words of comfort and support, instead. Their landlords told them that their loss to the community, should they move away, would be far greater than any loss of rental income.

Calgary coffee companion Ellen Mably wrote a song about the many who have reached out to her during her time of illness when she not only couldn’t pay her rent, but her fridge was empty, too. “I’m so lucky for these angels’ aid / While I cannot earn my pay,” the chorus goes.

It’s “angels” like these who have chosen to filter time for the better.

Some of our readers, however, spoke of the polluting effects of other filters. Such negative filters, when called upon to influence time for the good of others, instead seize the moment to gratify their own greed and self-interest.

Reports are coming from Europe of the gouging of airline travellers stranded by Iceland’s recent volcanic eruption. Such opportunism doesn’t make much sense to North Americans who remember the hospitality shown to travellers stranded in Canada when flights were grounded following 9/11.

Similarly, reports by Tamara Palinka, Cochrane’s gal on the ground in Haiti, break our hearts as we read of the cruelty, graft, and outright extortion by some Haitians, while others have put their own lives on hold so that many, especially children, will have better yesterdays to look back on.

Actually, as filters of time, we have three options, not just two: we can choose to purify the flow with kindness, to pollute the flow with meanness, or to sit back and do nothing.

Take the parable of the Good Samaritan, for example.

As time flowed through this unlikely traveller along a road in ancient Palestine, it brought with it a victim of crime left by the roadside.

The Samaritan had three choices: he could simply ignore the victim and go on his way, leaving time unfiltered.

He could exploit the victim’s circumstances, seeing in the moment an opportunity for personal gain by charging some exorbitant fee for transportation, lodging and other services rendered.

Or he could recognize the moment as an opportunity for true humanity to shine forth – which, according to the biblical account, was exactly the option he chose, and at his own expense helped a stranger get on with his life.

The kind of choice he made is expressed at Morley by one of the most beautiful words in the Stoney Nakoda language: ûsiginabi, “merciful kindness.”

Speaking of which, there’s a certain exuberance associated with spontaneous acts of merciful kindness.

“Exuberance: the Passion for Life” was the topic of the April 9 meeting of the Cochrane Ideas Society.

One of the discussants for the evening was area resident Cornelis “Cor” van de Panne, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Calgary.

I’ve referred to Cor before in this column (March 10, 2004), where he spoke of growing up in the Netherlands under Nazi occupation. His contemporary, Dutch Holocaust martyr Etty Hillesum, is one of his heroes. Etty was a young Jewish woman who radiated kindness and hope amidst the darkness of the occupation and concentration camp.

At the Ideas meeting he turned his attention to the infectious exuberance that some bring to their encounters with life. For the occasion he wrote an outstanding essay which begins:

“When I think about exuberance I see a fountain spouting high with drops spraying everywhere in warm sunny weather, giving the refreshment needed to avoid lassitude. The sound of the falling water provides shelter from any disturbing noise. Drops of water absorb sunshine and spread it around in abundance.”

Fountains are fundamental features of modern water purification systems. Indeed, as Cor so well states, the “drops of water absorb sunshine and spread it around in abundance.”

May we all be such fountains of positive filtration as time passes through us on its way to yesterday. And may the yesterdays we’ve influenced be sparkling testimonies to the life-affirming choices we’ve made in the here and now.

© 2010 Warren Harbeck

Return to Coffee With Warren home page