I recently came across this previously unpublished blog, written some time ago. Like so many other essays, the message often changes with the times.
Life is the great gift that has been given to each of us. What we do with our life is our gift in return. Each of us finds different ways to express this. We are, each of us, one-of-a-kind. No one sees the world just as we do. Our purpose in life is to discover, and express fully, the uniqueness that is distinctly ours.
Some years back my great friend, Dennis, went on a three-day religious a retreat in southern New Jersey. It was a weekend structured for spiritual contemplation and reflection. Beginning Friday morning, the participants met periodically as a group — in silence — to hear a spiritual message, then split up to reflect upon the message individually, while walking in the sacred surroundings of the gardens, through the woods, or along the mountain ridge. The only exception to the rule of silence was time the scheduled for Sunday at lunch.
The participants at the retreat all came from different churches in New Jersey. Among this large gathering were a few people Dennis recognized from his parish in Summit, but he did not know them well. Curiously, as he looked out among the many strange faces, he wondered who were these people, where they came from and why they were there.
At lunch on Sunday, Dennis was making his way through the cafeteria line when the man standing next to him said “Hello.” Dennis did not recognize this man, but politely returned the greeting. This stranger then said to Dennis, “You may not recognize my face any more than I recognize yours, but I do know you by your shoes.” Dennis’ face looked appropriately puzzled. The stranger then said, “I’m your shoemaker, and I’d recognize those shoes anywhere. Whenever you brought them to me for repair, it was important that I gave them the same care that you did.”
When Moses went to the top of the mountain to receive the commandments, a Voice from the burning bush said to him, “Moses, take off your shoes.” It was understood by that order that the ground he walked on was holy. Indeed, the ground we walk on is holy. So are the shoes we wear. So, too, are the gifts of the shoemaker.
Nietzche once wrote, “At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique human being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he, ever be put together a second time.”
Each of us is born with gifts differing. This is our uniqueness, to express fully. Whether we are butcher, baker or candlestick maker there is always the opportunity to creatively contribute to life by polishing that which is already beautiful. Life is the medium, and we are the canvass. Thus is the art of living.
After reading this, I reflected on several things relative to today’s crisis:
- As we are required to hide behind masks for health reasons, unrecognizable to some, there are so many other ways we are recognized. The shoemaker recognized my friend Dennis by his shoes, and the care he took, which prompted him to make sure he gave similar care and attention. It calls out the importance of reciprocity.
- Each of us has something unique to contribute. Our first responders and frontline medical people are making extraordinary sacrifices to keep us safe, at great risks to themselves. So, too, the transit workers, grocery clerks, postal workers, and package deliverers, among many others. Each of us has out part to play, and it takes all of us working together when times are tough.
- As scientists study the cause-and-effect relationship between climate change and pandemics, let us never forget that the ground we occupy is holy. It is the source of our sustenance.
- Lastly, let us remember the power of prayer. Many people pray for guidance, solace, protection, or thanks giving. In the midst of all that troubles us, let us all consider a moment of silence, and in that silence be grateful for our many blessings.
Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet, wrote this poem, Praying:
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Indeed, life is the medium, and we are the canvas. Let us strive to polish all of which is already beautiful.
Keith Darcy is President of Darcy Partners Inc., a boutique consulting firm that works with boards and top executives on a wide variety of complex governance, ethics, compliance, and reputation risk challenges. Website: Darcy.Partners