United Church of Christ

Into the Mystic: In Search of Kindness

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“Love Your Neighbor” is not just one of the greatest commands, but also the greatest practices

It can be too easy these days to doubt our capacity for kindness.

News cycles tell of senseless murders, mass shootings, wars, terror attacks, and more. The name-calling and intolerance of differences emanates from the highest offices in our country and around the world. We are all tense and on edge.

We need reminders of the common good we all share. We need to know that there still resides in the human heart the capacity to treat the neighbor with love.

The following story is borrowed from a friend, Rabbi John Linder from Temple Solel in Scottsdale AZ. We became fast friends when I lived there – and remain so to this day. I share it with his permission.

Jim worked for 47 years as a rehab counselor with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in Chicago. A few weeks ago, Jim was browsing in a second-hand store. A suitcase caught his attention, so he bought it and brought it home. Opening it, he unzipped an inner-compartment to find some family photographs inside a few cards. Jim instantly felt the pang of a stranger’s loss, with priceless memories of three generations perhaps gone forever. One of the cards carried the name of a rabbi, his wife and son, and their congregation. The rabbi had sent it to his parents, wishing them blessings at the beginning of the Jewish New Year. There are lots of Temples in America. This one happened to be in Petoskey, Mich., served by a student rabbi 20 years ago. Jim was determined to track down the rabbi, and return what could otherwise have been lost forever.

This past June, my wife Nancy, son David and I visited my hometown of Buffalo for the unveiling of my mother’s headstone. My siblings and our families gathered at my sister Catherine’s home nearby after the graveside ceremony. We reminisced as we looked through memorabilia cleared out from my mom’s apartment, and chose what was most meaningful for each of us to keep – mostly small figurines, cards, and family photographs. My wife and I took advantage of packing our cargo of memory into one of my mom’s old suitcases to check on the plane back to Phoenix. 

When we returned, we unpacked the suitcase, gave our son his mementos, and we found a place for ours. Having no use for the suitcase, we set it outside our home, along with other giveaways, for a scheduled donation pick up – unaware of the cards and photographs in that inner compartment. That was over a month ago.

Last Friday, Jim walked into my office with far more than treasured cards and photographs. He returned what I needed most – a reminder of the essential goodness of humanity

The world is sustained by the kindness of the Jim Puryears that grace our lives – angels sent from above. And here’s the thing about intentional acts of loving kindness - they enrich the giver as much as the receiver. Together, standing on the common foundation of our respective faiths – Jim and I, shoulder to shoulder, doubled-down on loving our neighbors as ourselves, and serving as stewards of the Earth entrusted to our care. I no longer struggled for the words to share with my congregation on Shabbat. They flowed from the heart and soul of my brother, Jim.

Wow.

Thanks, John – for sharing this story. Let us all strive to be kind to each other on this, our journey Into the Mystic.


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