My wife saw this poem in a recent Dear Abby column and cut it out to save. In its spare verse it manages to capture and sum up most of what is wrong in the world today, or at least what is wrong with many people. Read it and then think what you would have done, had you been sitting around that fire. Do any of these reactions from people around the fire sound like you?
The Cold Within
Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told.
Their dying fire in need of logs
The first man held his back
For of the faces round the fire
He noticed one was black.
The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.
The third one sat in tattered clothes.
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?
The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy shiftless poor.
The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.
The last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.
Their logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.
– James Patrick Kinney
While the examples may seem a bit simplistic and extreme they echo the preconceived notions and prejudices that drive many of our day to day decisions, especially those concerning the needs of others that we encounter. In each case a judgement is made on the fly. I like the statement made by Pope Francis recently when asked about people who are living a different lifestyle. He simply said, “Who am I to judge?”
The log that each possessed is a metaphor for the gifts that each of us has to share with the world around us. The opportunities to help or to share are all around us and many go unmet for reasons as simplistic as those explored in the poem. What will you do this week with the gifts that you have been given? Please don’t die from the cold within. Give, share, help and feel the warmth that comes with caring and having made the effort to help.
Have a great and giving week ahead.