The pelting of this pitiless storm

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Very occasionally Londoners are able to tear their commuting eyes from their newspapers or books or phones and take in the advertisements that paste the walls of the underground tube carriages. The market research on this must be very broad because these ads are usually products for hair growth or Scandinavian-style furniture. So imagine my surprise when I peeped a public service ad that quoted lines from Shakespeare’s King Lear:

Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,

That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,

How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,

Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you

From seasons such as these? O! I have ta’en

Too little care of this. Take Physic, pomp;

Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,

That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,

And show the heavens more just.

The ad has popped up in the wake of Brexit; it’s no secret that the majority of London voted “Stay”. The “Leave” campaign heavily entertained the conversation that the rates of immigration and refugees in the UK was out of control, and across the country ugly displays of frankly racist nationalism turned into violence against Brits and visitors with contrary nationality. Since the “Leave” vote, messages of welcome and peace-keeping have cropped up on the underground and in other subtle places around our international city.

 

I liked this particular quote because it reminded me of Linda K. Burton’s prompting in April: that we consider, “what if their story were my story?” For me, part of the London experience is the quiet current of poverty that speckles the city in shocking and tragic, stomach-curling grief. Passing the derelict never leaves me unaffected, and I often wonder, “how did this happen? Where are their families? What job did they lose? Where will they sleep tonight? Where will they use the bathroom? how hungry must they be- cold, lonely, bored, angry… apathetic?” Lear wills himself to feel as they must feel, even for a moment, so that he might gain more perspective of such a seemingly unjust state of affairs.

 

I thought of Sister Burton’s talk. She reminded us of poignant scripture that draws on the Saviours greatest commandment: that we love one another:

 

Sisters, we know that reaching out to others with love matters to the Lord. Consider these scriptural admonitions:
“The stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself”, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”, and the Saviour said: “For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me.” The Saviour lovingly acknowledged the widow whose contribution was only two mites because she did what she could. He also told the parable of the good Samaritan, which He concluded saying, “Go, and do thou likewise.” Sometimes reaching out is inconvenient. But when we work together in love and unity, we can expect heaven’s help.
I like the sense of responsibility the Saviour conveys to his disciples as he teaches. We are our brothers’ keeper. I think sometimes we worry all too much about the big picture in instances where we could easily offer aid. I remember having a debate with an acquaintance once, where he stressed the importance of not contributing to a flawed economic system: he argued that we were enabling and financing a growing epidemic. Maybe that’s true. But we’ve been instructed and prompted otherwise.
So often we grow and mature under inspiring leadership. There are no limitations, we are told, to what we can accomplish. We can change the world some day we are told– and we tell people the same. We can make a difference. Well, how do we consider we can do that? By making lots of money and fame for ourselves and influencing the masses? By setting up foundations, trusts and scholarships, or building something large?
I was racing to work this morning, late as usual. At the top of the stairs at Kings Cross station sits a destitute woman. She’s new to this area, and her skinny frame shakes as she silently sobs with a sadness that I don’t suppose I will ever know. She looks tired and most commuters pretend that the other things in their eyeline are suddenly all the more fascinating, if only to avoid the stab of guilt and pain it takes to look at her. This morning I saw a young woman crouched at her side. In hushed tones she comforted the woman, and was scribbling something- a phone number or some clue or lead for help?- on a piece of paper. This morning she was that Samaritan. A short moment in her life. I fully believe that though she may not have changed the world, she may have changed a world.
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Maybe it’s crass that I took a picture of this moment. I was touched by this girl’s kindness and empathy.

Political justice aside, what kind of personal responsibility do we each feel for our fellow man? How do we judge others as opposed to how we serve others?
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