One of my joys has been to view the 60 second videos of photographer Jim Brandenburg. Each day the scenes captivate my eyes with the wild loveliness of northern Minnesota. In early October I watched fluttering maple leaves. They left me mesmerized with the contrast between the close-up shots in which each yellowing leaf revealed a blemish of some sort, while the wide-lens view of the individual leaves displayed a dazzling forest. In the expansive view, none of the blemishes stood out— even though each leaf held an imperfection such as partial discoloring, a ripped edge, a hole, or a dark spot. When seen as a whole, my eyes beheld sheer loveliness. (See http://nature365.tv/october-10-2018/
There is no such thing as a tree with completely perfect leaves. Nor is there a human being with a completely flawless personality. Every one of us contains both weaknesses and strengths. We each have our deficiencies of character and morality. We are like autumn leaves, beautiful in our beholding at a distance, and yet a bit tattered and torn when viewed up close. There can be defective holes in our ideas and ragged edges to certain behaviors. Who of us has not been dishonest, has not wished harm to another who hurt us, or felt irritated with someone’s annoying habits? Who has not harshly misjudged or been angry enough to lash out verbally, and later wished we had not spoken? Equally, who of us has not felt sorrow for another’s loss, reached out with care in time of need, forgiven a misguided child, given generously to persons caught in the throes of poverty and natural disasters?
And so it is, whether with individual maple leaves or with individual humans, when we stand at a distance and gaze with kindhearted eyes we marvel at the goodness and the ability of the human heart to sustain and comfort others. This week I again found this to be true when I attended a service of support at one of the synagogues here in the city. A tower of hope rose in my heart upon seeing the strength of that gathering. Each available space overflowed with hundreds of people who came from many faith traditions to unite in kinship as the Jewish community grieved the violent loss of life in Pittsburgh. When I looked around, I saw a radiant forest. The flaws within each person and faith tradition dissolved in the beauty of the whole, a vibrant hue of solidarity. As I left there, I thought “Hate keeps smashing windows of compassion but the kinship of caring communities continues to mend and strengthen what has been destroyed.”
Etty Hillisum, a beautiful-souled young woman killed at Auschwitz because of hate, wrote the following in her diary the year before her death: “I am so grateful for this life. I feel I am growing. I am aware of my faults and my pettiness each new day, but I also know my potential. And I have so much love; I love a few good friends, but that love is not a fence erected against others; my love is far-flung, all-embracing and broad enough to include very many of whom I am really not all that fond.” (An Interrupted Life)
Etty has long been one of my mentors for seeing beyond the flaws and finding strength in the goodness that resides within all of us. Etty reminds me that we are the autumn leaves. Each of us makes up for what the other lacks. Together we radiate like a luminous forest. Oh, how much there is for which to receive hope and give thanks.
Reproduced on the Marley Parish website by kind permission of Sister Joyce Rupp, osm.
Joyce Rupp/Servants of Mary, 1165 Office Park Rd., # 308, West Des Moines, IA 50265