Through the several careers of my life, I have always made a point of serving those in need. Perhaps most of us do this. I hope so. For some it is volunteer work through an organized effort of a church, synagogue, mosque or nonprofit organization. For others it may be through financial contribution. It is well that there are so many organized channels for those serving those who are in need.
I was never much of an organization person, myself. My wife says I am just not a joiner. However, I know the dynamic of helping the homeless, the downtrodden and the rejected. It can give one a good feeling on some occasions or be very frustrating on others.
An example from history prepared me early, as to what to expect. In WWII there existed this little French village of Le Chambon. The population of this little village actually hid and saved more Jews than the population itself. Apparently, they did this out of no special creed but just by looking into the needy eyes of a fellow human. When you help someone else, you may receive gratitude, but don’t expect it. Gratitude must, absolutely must, remain an unexpected gift.
For the villagers of Le Chambon, they experienced both gratitude from those they helped but also witnessed the despicable character defects of human kind. They protected refugees first from Vicky policemen and later from SS soldiers. If they had been caught, the penalty would almost certainly have been deportation and, with it, the loss of property and, very likely, of life. Every day, during the four years of occupation, the villagers and especially their leaders lived under this threat. Their courage was under constant call, and they would never know when the ultimate sacrifice would be required of them. Meanwhile, stress steadily built up and, week after week, more and more refugees poured in. At one time, some sixty refugees were hidden in the presbytery alone. But just because the Jews were victims and were being persecuted did not mean they were saints or even likable. A girl from a wealthy family demanded breakfast in bed. One young man insisted that his girlfriend be allowed to visit him. Another refused to eat anything that wasn’t kosher. These irritations didn’t even include the burdens of the hosts, such as giving up space, food, and the little comforts and conveniences they were used to. Hardest of all for the adults of Le Chambon was to require their own children to eat less so that the food they had could be more widely shared.
There have been those occasions that we have all experienced, where I have given money to a homeless person only to find him in the alley four hours later passed out with a wine bottle. Numerous times I have taken someone in or given them hire, only to be stolen from later. There are times when it can be disheartening.
My final jury trial was tried in defense of a man, who through negligence had caused the death of a baby in an automobile accident. The District Attorney chose to make it a criminal matter instead of a civil matter, even though no alcohol or illicit drug was involved. I worked hard and gave the best defense I could for the man. The jury found him not guilty of a criminal charge, at least. Two weeks later I received a letter from the man criticizing my efforts and complaining of the way I characterized him in the trial.
Do such frustrations mean we should not seek to serve others in need? Of course not. It simply means that we should not be Polyanic in our service. If the needy could be helped only on the basis of justification, of being deserving and having no character defects, then no one would ever be helped.
Service to our fellow person is mandatory for each of us. It is our birth responsibility. Justification of the recipient is not required.
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