Saturday, June 09, 2007

My Grandfather's Blessings

I am reading “My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging” by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., a book which appeared in our house from an unknown source. Many books grace our shelves and I personally have no recollection of how they landed there. More fool me. But these organically-acquired books which seem to grow from the very shelves out of nothing often seem to hold wisdom and messages far exceeding their exterior qualities or appearance. “My Grandfather’s Blessings” seems to be just one of those sorts of books indeed.

Dr. Remen writes: “We bless the life around us far more than we realize. Many simple, ordinary things that we do can affect those around us in profound ways: the unexpected phone call, the brief touch, the willingness to listen generously, the warm smile or wink of recognition. We can even bless total strangers and be blessed by them. Big messages come in small packages. All it may take to restore someone’s trust in life may be returning a lost earring or a dropped glove.”

About compassion, she adds: “Without compassion, the world cannot continue. Our compassion blesses and sustains the world.”

Through her recollections of her early childhood experiences with her grandfather, an Orthodox rabbi, Dr. Remen uses his wisdom---imparted through simple acts and simple words communicated to a little girl from a wise elder---to discuss simple axioms illustrating the beauty and simplicity of a life of compassion and service.

Not three chapters into the book, and I can feel in my bones that the lessons to be gleaned in the subsequent pages are many. My hope is that I can not only read the words and understand them intellectually, but truly hear them, integrate them, and embody them in daily life. This is the challenge---cultivating compassion, even in the moments when it seems far beyond one’s reach. That certainly must be the task at hand, and its fulfillment is not a mundane achievement. His Holiness The Dalai Lama has said that kindness is his religion. So, if kindness were to be one’s religion, I would venture to say that compassion would then by necessity be one’s commandment. And living by that commandment of kindness and compassion must be one of the greatest goals that anyone could ever strive to fulfill.

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