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Faith In Humanity
Just when you think society has reached the bottom, something happens to restore your faith in humanity. On Labor Day weekend, my family and I returned home from camping to receive a message that one of my closest friends had lost her house to a fire. She, her husband, and visiting college-age children, had barely escaped the burning house with their lives. Some of their possessions are salvageable, but it will be some time before they can live in their house again. The most tragic part is that the cause of the fire was arson. My friend, Jean, told the investigators that she could think of no one who "had it out" for her. "Doesn't matter," they said. Jean's house was a great target because of its location to the road, and the family had left the garage door open that night. An accident is something you wish had been prevented, but the willful disregard for human life and property can't be explained and is hard to forgive. The sickness of a human being is the tragedy. Jean is the Director of Religious Education at the church I attend. People are helping Jean and her family in any way they can. Donations of food, clothing and furniture are pouring in. Jean's husband, David, came to my house to pick up an extra desk I was donating to their son and daughter, who had been storing furniture in the garage to take to their empty college apartment. I talked about my feeling of tragedy over the arson. "On the other hand," said David, "we've seen first hand what a great community of people we have. I listen to the news sometimes and get really pessimistic, but the support we've experienced reminds me there is hope." His faith in humanity had been renewed. One might expect a church congregation to pull together for a well- respected member of the church staff, but how about a whole city of predominantly Christians pulling together for the Jewish community? Hate crimes had been on the rise in Billings, Montana in December of 1993. ("Lights in Montana" 54) A brick was thrown through the bedroom window of a 5-year-old Jewish boy, leaving shards of glass strewn across his bed. Symbols of his faith had been stenciled on the window in celebration of Hanukkah. The "Billings Gazette" reported the story the next day, including a statement from the child's mother saying she had been advised by the police to remove the symbols, but how, she wondered, would she explain this to her son. Another mother in Billings, after reading the article, wondered what she would tell her children if she were advised not to display a Christmas tree or wreath because it wasn't safe. The Christian woman remembered hearing of a tactic used in World War II Denmark when Hitler ordered the king to force Jews to wear the Star of David. Because the King and many other non-Jewish-Danes chose to wear the yellow stars as well, Hitler could not find his "enemies". Thinking this tactic could "hide" the Jewish families in Billings, if enough people participated, the woman called her pastor at the First Congregationalist United Church of Christ, and asked if the children could make menorahs in Sunday school to hang in their own windows. The pastor called his clergy colleagues around town, and menorahs began showing up in windows of hundreds of Christian homes. The "Billings Gazette" caught on and published a full-page drawing of a menorah and invited everyone to display it. By the end of the week, at least six thousand homes (some estimates say ten thousand) were donning menorahs. The violence didn't stop, but did eventually wane. Two years later, "People continue their efforts to support one another against hate crimes. ...Greater mutual understanding and respect have been achieved." (55) Lest Billings should take all the honors, on Wednesday, September 13, 1995, columnist Ann Landers printed a letter from a man in another city. He writes, "Last year, Wausau, Wisconsin, was the subject of a negative story on '60 Minutes.' To combat this negative image, our newspaper, the Wausau Daily Herald, talked area businesses into co- sponsoring a 'Random Acts of Kindness Week' this past March. "Businesses, organizations and individuals were encouraged to perform simple acts of random kindness for people they knew or didn't know. The response was astronomical. "Banks washed car windows in the drive-up lanes. Church groups mowed lawns for people in the neighborhood. Movie theaters gave out free passes to people waiting in line. One individual walked into the restaurant and bought a cup of coffee for every person in the place. "The newspaper ran a hotline for people to phone in the acts of kindness they had witnessed. More than five hundred calls were received. "This is an excellent example of how one organization in town turned some negative reporting around instead of just griping about it." My own restored faith in humanity came recently, not with a major catastrophe, nor did it involve an entire city, just with two individuals working out their differences with compassion for each other. My dog is an animal shelter survivor. We rescued him from certain and sudden death at the hands of the county. After almost a year Scully has not fully appreciated the great favor we have done for him. He still tries to strike out on his own each time the door is left ajar. Because we have small children the door gets left ajar a lot. Scully has a collar with his license and rabies vaccine tag. Both tags have a telephone number that gives the caller access to our phone number. In the less than two dozen times that he has been found by neighbors, they have been extremely kind when calling us to say they have found our dog. I get the feeling they feel good about doing a good deed. A few months ago a neighbor who had spoken to me many times when I walked Scully, found him out on his own. She led him away from my house to what I'm presuming was the first person she saw outside her house. When the woman called me, I asked for her address, then headed down the block to retrieve Scully. When I got there, I could overhear the two women talking about calling the humane society in situations like this. The atmosphere felt hostile, so I thanked the woman quickly and bustled off with my dog in arms. The woman I had spoken to before caught up top me, and preceded to lecture me about how I ought to take better care of the dog. As politely as I could, I explained about the kids and the gate and the door ajar. I said I appreciated her advice, but that we were doing the best we could. We've been working on our system, and training the children, and Scully hasn't been getting out as much. However, he got out last week. I'm not sure how long he'd been gone when I started looking for him. A woman walking two dogs asked if I had lost my dog. She knew where he was. I followed her; we chatted about my dog and why he gets out. She said something I didn't quite understand about her neighbor's cat being hit by a car, so the dog was at this woman's house. She led me to the house where my dog had visited a month before, and had not been well received. A man and his daughter were milling around on the driveway, as the woman with two dogs led me toward the back yard. I heard the man talking to other neighbors about my dog. The words "regular visitor" and "rag-mop" popped out at me. Again I could sense hostility, so I tried to make a hasty retreat. As I was leaving the woman from "before" pulled up. "I want you to know," she said, "that your dog was almost hit by a car, and if I hadn't stopped to rescue him I could have been here to save my cat from getting killed." I said I was sorry about her cat and started to leave. She said, "I'm okay about my cat, that's taken care of. It's your dog that I'm worried about, because you don't take care of him. He's going to end up dead." On and on she went, becoming more and more shrill. I figured it was her grief talking. I wanted to console her, but there is a point when you know that anything you say is not going to be heard. I walked away. I was a half -block away and she was still yelling. I could tell she hadn't said everything she wanted to say. I owed her that much, so I turned around and said, "I'd love to talk to you about this, but I don't want to be yelled at. If we can discuss this, I'll come back." "I'm not yelling," she yelled. "But you are," I said, "and I haven't had a chance to defend myself." I had the chance to explain about the pound, and the children, and the door and the gate. I wasn't sure Scully was worth all this and maybe we should return him to the pound. She began to understand and calm down. I noticed that her daughter had joined us. She was about six years old, and she had red, swollen tear stained eyes. I was thinking,"How can this woman be putting so much effort into chastising me when her daughter needs to be comforted?" When I arrived home, I told my own six-year-old daughter and husband what had happened. We all tried to understand how someone could be that hostile. Less than an hour later, I heard a knock at the door. It was the woman and her tear-stained daughter. She was beside herself with apologies. She admitted her upset really had been because of her cat, not my dog. Tears sprung to my eyes. They had taken time out of their grief, and summoned their courage to find me and apologize. They even brought me a bag of fruit as a peace offering. Not having a bad feeling about my neighbor means a lot to me. It isn't important that my faith in humanity was restored by a mundane experience. However, it is important that I learn from the experience, and remember always to act in a way that I can be proud of. Works Cited Landers, Ann. "Random acts of kindness rampant." "Contra Costa Times" September 13, 1995, Sec. F:5


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