Mother Teresa’s quote speaks loudly to me right now, not because of feeling that there may be people in my family who are lacking love so much as my neighbour who is lonely and in need. But whether in reference to one’s family or to a friend, neighbour, work colleague (or anyone else in our circle of friends and acquiantances), her quote is a pressing reminder to look closely at those around us as well as paying attention to the wider world.
I wonder why we often find it easier to help those at a distance? Distance could be measured in many ways – literally as geographical distance, metaphorically as people comparatively much poorer than us, and so on. But I wonder about the anonymity aspects: giving a bowl of rice to an unknown person in need in another country is undoubtedly a generous and kind act, but it also demands nothing further from us. In colloquial terms, there is no direct come-back (from that person) if we don’t follow through with more help tomorrow, next week, month or year. Our own guilt, or lack thereof, in not following through with further help is very much up to our own conscience. But to help a member of one’s own family or immediate neighbour takes courage, because it carries risk. The further deepening or enhancment of a relationship may invite with it the fear that this person may come to depend on us and/or demand more of us than we are willing or able to give at this moment in time.
So to act in kindness and with compassion to our very nearest and dearest – family or otherwise – requires us to take courageous steps, to really look closely at the people in our lives, and see if they too could benefit from a small act of love or loving kindness. What that action would be will vary from person to person and across time.
I know my neighbour needs a listening ear, maybe only once a month even, someone to unburden their troubles to who isn’t family, who won’t judge according to what is said, and who won’t immediately try to ‘action’ some fundamental change in their life. That takes time – in this busy age our most precious resource – and perhaps that is why it is easier to give a bowl of rice to an anonymous person far away, than it is to connect with those around us, to see them for who they are and what they need right now. And yet finding the time and courage to act in this way creates a more joyful existence for us and those around us, even if only fleetingly. It is a risk worth taking in my view.