--by Mike Murray
There is a profound line delivered by Humphrey Bogart in the dramatic, final scene of the movie Casablanca. As he nobly gives up his pursuit of the alluring ‘Ilsa’ (Ingrid Bergmen), Bogart’s ‘Rick’ asserts: “...the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
Taken in the abstract, the message is valid. There are many things in this world larger than petty concerns and selfish desires. Certainly such can be argued when the world is at war and countless lives are at stake, as was the case in the film.
Applied literally, however, the point is poorly taken. Because if individuals don’t matter, no accumulation of individuals matters. If each of us is as nothing, we are cumulatively nothing. A billion times zero is still zero.
Most of us come to that realization at this time of year. It is what compels us to consider the needs of the less fortunate. When we think of them, we tend to see them not so much as groups or as statistics, but as collections of individuals.
We ache for sad, dirty-faced urchins who don’t get enough to eat. We feel for homeless men living outside in the cold. We are moved by singe mothers and their children, searching for safe haven. We worry about lonely elderly persons who face dire consequences when emergency strikes, and no one is there to help. We are concerned for abandoned, hungry animals wandering the streets.
It is the focus on individual suffering that so moves us. Certainly suffering that is multiplied is tragedy exponential. Five people dying in a fire is appalling. But it is so only because each life lost was precious. It is awfulness times five.
Similarly, the situation in Darfur is wretched. (It is wretched in many other places in the world too, places that lack Darfur’s advocacy.) For anyone with even an once of compassion, it is torturous even to consider the atrocities daily committed around our globe. It is torturous to contemplate because the victims are many. But it would be repugnant, even if only one poor soul were involved.
For, when we consider a lone child struggling for his life due to serious accident or illness, or when we learn of a single animal trapped in a sewer – we are touched. We are touched because each life is precious. Each one matters.
And so do you.
You are among those who do much. You routinely tend to the needs of those who are close to you, and you do what you can for those who are not. You are usually so busy looking after others, in fact, that you do a poor job of looking after yourself.
And during this holiday season, pressure builds. Tension surrounds your efforts to get work assignments completed before the holiday break. You fret over finding and procuring presents for loved ones – and for the less fortunate whose “tree tags” you have accepted.
You worry about the house. How will you find time to clean it? Company is coming; you want to make it comfortable for your guests. And baking? How will you fit that in? Please. You just might have to ask your friend Sara for help. Sara Lee.
You know you should be happy: ‘tis the season to be jolly, after all. But you just can’t relax. There’s just so much to do and not nearly enough time.
On top of it all, maybe your life’s not so great right now. Relationship problems, difficult children (or parents), health issues – any would naturally trouble you. But just now, added to everything else that’s going on, your burden might seem almost too much to bear.
And then there are the needy that you just can’t get out of your mind. How can you celebrate when so many others are suffering? How can you enjoy yourself when so many of God’s creatures are cold, hungry, sick, lonely?
Please, give yourself a break.
It is humanity’s blessing that you are as you are. Your compassion makes this world a better place, even if it’s hard for you to see it. While your individual efforts might not appear to you to matter much, be assured that they do.
You may not be changing the entire world, but you – and those like you – are making a world of difference for those whose lives you do manage to touch. Whenever you nurture a loved one, whenever you lend a hand to any person or animal in need, you change things for the better.
No less than some (and a good deal more than most) you deserve to be happy. So do what you can, and then let it go. Allow yourself to enjoy this special season.
If it helps, think of it this way: taking care of yourself is good for others. Recall the instructions given on airplanes. Flight attendants direct parents, in the event of an accident, to put on their own oxygen masks before tending to their children. Because if they don’t first look after themselves, they won’t be able to look after anyone else.
Rationalize it any way you want. But, please, take care of you. If you can’t bring yourself to do it for your own sake – if that seems selfish – then do it for all of those who depend on you. That just might be the most precious gift you can offer.
Copyright ©2006 Michael F. Murray -- All rights reserved.