Thursday, August 18, 2011

What People Do

My wife and I sat in a hospital waiting room with a friend while her husband was undergoing surgery. We were there to distract her from the worries that might otherwise overwhelm her. We talked about this and that until the doctor came out and said the operation went well and she could soon go to her husband's side.

While we were there, another woman sat by herself, waiting. I struck up a conversation with her and learned that she was waiting for her father to come out of surgery, at which time she would be able to go to another hospital to see her mother, who had been rushed into the emergency room there. She seemed to like having someone to talk with for a while as she waited.

Some religions teach that we are commanded to help people when they need help, although it seems that the notion of a directive from the all-powerful is remarkably easy for people to construe as not binding on them. The feeling that one is obligated to help others seems to have withered in this capitalist society, where we are told that if anything is worthwhile, someone should be paying money to get it. Recently, a lot of people are also saying that the government shouldn't help people either, or at least that government shouldn't help people based upon their need for help. These misanthropes say that only people who deserve help should get it, and they view neediness as a divine indication of unworthiness.

My mother used to tell me that there are things we do because that's what people do. There was no question of whether these things had to be done or what would happen if they weren't done. They were just the things to do. Not the right thing, not the good thing, not the holy thing, not the kind thing, and certainly not anything a person should feel self-righteous for doing. There are some things, she would remind me, that people do whether or not it is convenient, regardless of who else did them, and irrespective of whether anyone would know you had done them. You did them without a thought of whether you would be repaid, in this life or another. You did them because someone needed them done.

Some day my wife or I may be sitting in a hospital, waiting for a surgeon to come out. Some friend or stranger may help the one of us who is waiting to pass the time. They won't do it to repay us for our vigil today. They will do it because their mother or father taught them that if you are fortunate enough to be able to help people, you do. That is what people do.

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