A Pilgrim’s Notes: OTHERS FRIENDLY

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Someone said that “people are not bad; they just suffer.” People – most people – are good, and treat others with kindness and gentleness. Being “others friendly” in our daily life does not make it to the front pages of newspapers or TV newscasts, but it is worthwhile to practice: events, experiences, encounters that contribute to making our life meaningful and joyful. Let me share with you a few little stories which happened to me. 

In Macau, I take the bus almost daily (it is free for the elderly). I would say that ninety-eight percent of the time someone offers me his or her seat (I am young at heart!). Sometimes, particularly after five in the afternoon, I resist because I see people are tired and my distance home is a few stops only. No way. I remember one time a middle-aged lady offered me her seat. I tell her that I am getting off the next stop. No way: “Please, sit.” Amen – and thanks!

The following story happened last summer. A young lady offered her seat to me in the Metro or subway of Madrid. As I was sitting, I stepped on the left foot of another young lady. I said thank you to the first and sorry to the second, who did not say a word but gave me a truly sincere smile. Both made my day!

Another little happening. Some weeks ago, I was waiting for a taxi in Jardim de Flora, Macau. A young man was ahead of me, so he stopped the first taxi that passed by, opened the door and … called me – I was about three meters away from him. He asked me to please get on the taxi. I told him: “Please, you take it. I am in no hurry. I wait for another.” He just smiled at me and showed me the open door with an inviting gesture of his right hand. People are good!

Once I bought a daily newspaper on a street stand. This time in Madrid. After paying, I said to the man who handed me a copy of the newspaper: “Thank you,” and added: “May you have a good day.” I think he was surprised and reacted late. I was already meters away from him when he shouted: “Señor, sir, “and you too; may you have a good day.” I still smile when I remember him.

Three years ago I had a student in Moral and Spiritual Theology. He was an atheist. He came to love the class and the exchanges among the eight students in the class. One of the questions of the final exam was on how they found the class – positive and negative points. This student was happy he enrolled: he learned to read books and present them in class, and, above all, he said he learned something essential for his life: “Though this class is about religions and I do not have beliefs in religions, I believe the essence of all religions is love; therefore this class is also teaching me how to love. Thank you very much.” He opened his answers to the questions of the final exam thus: “Dear professor. Here are my answers. God bless you.” I remember with joy and gratitude my atheist (?) student who asked God to bless me!  And I know he meant it. 

I have a friend who is a doctor of medicine and very kind. She answers emails right away. I think she believes that gratitude should not just walk but run – like the Father of the Prodigal Son! The majority of people answer emails or WhatsApp after some minutes or hours or days; some, much later, and a few, almost never, or until one asks them: “Did you receive my email?” I remember Charlie Brown the kind master of Snoopy and friend of Linus and the rest of the lovely Peanuts Family. Before Christmas, Charlie sent a Christmas card to all his friends. Some did not answer so he called them up and asked them: “Did you receive my Christmas card?” They answered him: “Yes, thank you very much.” Charlie Brown: “It is good to help people say the right thing.” Did you receive my email?

A religious sister told me this story. She was given a free trip to Lourdes, France. She was happy. She wanted to ask Our Lady of Lourdes to heal her from her constant pains and aches, especially her crippling arthritis. When she arrived at the Shrine she forgot her petition: “Seeing so many people ill – some very disabled, others in a wheelchair, others limping, still others crying… -, I did not mind my request.” Instead of praying for herself, she prayed for all those brothers and sisters who went to visit Our Lady in search of a miracle, or just peace of soul. How beautiful! To forget ourselves to connect with others and try to help them. For believers, every person is a brother or a sister in Christ - the Crucified and Risen Christ; God is the Father of all. 

A few years ago I traveled to Matsuyama with another brother Dominican. We had to stop at Osaka Airport. We had time for lunch so, not knowing much of the rich Japanese cuisine, we opted for MacDonald. We checked the different kinds of sandwiches and their corresponding amount in yens. I was greatly surprised by the price of the last item in the list: zero (0). I checked what it was: Smile! I was indeed joyfully surprised - Smile: 0!St. Mother Teresa of Kolkata, who practiced the apostolate of the smile, said: “Perhaps I do not speak your language, but I can smile.” 

In December of 2016, and walking on my way to the house of the Missionaries of Charity in Macau, a woman was shouting at my back. I turned around and saw her:  she was young, a teenager. She kept talking in Chinese and pointing to my cap (from Rosaryhill School in Hong Kong). I realized she was a bit mentally disabled. I made signs trying to tell her if she wanted my cap. She answered moving her head up and down. So I gave it to her. She was so happy. And I was very happy. She made my day – and some more.  

Walking one day with a friend, under the Aqueduct of Segovia, Spain, a middle-aged woman approached us and asked for some money to feed her children. We gave her some amount. Her answer: “Many thanks, and may God give it to you in another way.” That was wonderful and true: Jesus pays well, St. Teresa of Avila says. I remember the words of St. Peter Chrysologus: “Give to the poor and you give to yourself.”

The icon of kindness, compassion, and tenderness is the mother, our mother. Best images are mother and child, or mother (grandmother) and father (grandfather). I remember the words of St. John of Avila: “The most beautiful thing in the world is to see in Bethlehem a young woman with her child in her arms.” What a joy for me to watch the little children going to school with their parents and or grandparents: some parents talk with their children, others listen to them, and still others just smile to each other. So much love and tenderness and joy! I thought: the future is in good hands. With these uplifting images, one understands better what Jesus says:  “Let the children come to me… If you do not become like children you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.”

When I see a needy person, the following well-known story comes to my mind. There was a little girl – hungry, dirty, fragile, poor – shivering in a cold winter morning. A priest passed by and felt some kind of pity for her. So at night before going to bed, the priest asked God: “Why don’t you do something about the little girl, your child?” He asked the same question for a few nights in a row. God kept silent. Finally, one night God answered him: “I did something. I created you.” There are many in our world like the little girl, perhaps not far from us, who need an act of kindness, a piece of bread, a smile.  I am sure of this: we will never regret helping some needy children, women, and the elderly.

Little acts of kindness or courtesy to others enrich us all. Courtesy, St. Francis of Assisi tells us, is the little sister of charity or love. St. Therese of the Child Jesus invites us to practice her “little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile, or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship” (Pope Francis). These little acts of love, of courtesy, of kindness and gentleness are truly refreshing for the giver and the receiver.