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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

790: I am human and nothing human is alien to me.

Day 790 Sunday May 15, 2022

I am human: and nothing human is alien to me.

May 13, 2022


About 80 years ago in a public school in Springfield, Oregon my day began with the Pledge of Allegiance. There had been a number of pledges ever since 1892 but this one was the official one adopted by Congress. It contained those words we all know affirming that the United States of America is indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Well, there never has been liberty and justice for all. Furthermore, the nation was not indivisible at that time and it certainly is not now. We are very divided into partisan tribes.

One day long ago in that classroom in Springfield, the next thing on the agenda was a Protestant missionary who spoke about some nation in Africa where he “labored for the Lord.” He got my attention when he described the poverty of the people. My parents and all the folks I knew were working class people who had just emerged from the Great Depression. We knew poverty. Our home was two rooms in a broken-down former motel.

What the Africans had that we lacked was a strong sense of community. Even at that early age I thought community would be a good thing.

My father was a lumber-mill worker and we had migrated from the South when the trees in Mississippi were logged-out. Migrants like us were looked down upon by the other inhabitants of the town. We were even separated by the way we pronounced a supposedly common language. In addition, my mother and I were Catholic, and the town was very Protestant. When a priest happened by, the few Catholics attended Mass in a vacant room above the Bakery. Otherwise, there was no contact.

That brings me to the present day and why I've spent a good deal of time watching some bees in the flowers, lizards developing their relationships on the steps outside my room, and a mother quail helping her offspring explore their environment. To understand how this relates to my concerns, you have to jump back quite a few centuries.

Terence (199/185 BCE-159 BCE) was a Roman-African slave who was later freed and became one of the great playwrights of the Roman era. One line of his has been remembered through the centuries and used by other writers including; John Donne, Karl Marx, Montaigne. Flannery O'Connor, Maya Angelou and many others. The line is;

Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto.

I am human: and nothing human is alien to me.

Seven words which, if taken seriously, could change life in my country and on the planet we all inhabit. But will we ever look on all other people as anything but alien threats? Sadly, not in my time. That is especially obvious during the perpetual election seasons and military conflicts we are enduring these days.

A radical revolution of compassion is needed. I doubt that this is on any government’s agenda. But cast your eye over the upcoming generations who will inherit the earth. It is true we see sad things in their ranks. There are concerns of alienation, depression, and suicide We read about it in the papers almost daily. But, in my opinion, there is also a strong understanding about the need for community that we don't find in the headlines.

It's very likely this revolution, if it comes, may not be led by an individual, or a well-organized large group of any kind. In 1993 the Zen spiritual teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022) wrote that the next Buddha may not be an individual but a small community, practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living.

So, it's very possible that the next Buddha, or any other spiritual revolutionary you respect, are a few people living in your own house or down the street. And perhaps you could be one of those few people! Dorothy Day (1897-1980), the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement. once said,

"We are all called to be saints and we might as well get over our bourgeois fear of the word. We might also get used to recognizing there is something of the saint in all of us."

It is time for me to take my walker and hobble out to see what happened after the recent rain. I think I will spot new little sprouts coming through the earth and I feel that the radical revolution of compassion could well be sprouting in the same way!

South Asian monks, after their monsoon retreat, are very careful not to step on any new growth — a practice that makes them mindful of new spiritual growth. I think I will give that a try! Changing Terence, a bit; I am a living thing: and nothing living is alien to me.

Brother Toby

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