A very Happy Christmas to you from Germany. Sometimes we find life in the least expected places.
Last night I attended a late-night candlelight church service, a cherished tradition. But what struck me was not the familiar lessons and carols or the sermon, but an act of graciousness after the service.
On the way out, I found myself behind two older ladies who had sat in front of me during the service. The first one greeted the pastor then pointed to her friend behind her and stated, “She just lost her husband of 64 years last week.”
The pastor could have reacted in many ways. Perhaps an affirmation that she would one day see her husband again? But that requires an assumption and seems almost dismissive of her immediate need for comfort. Or a statement that everything would be okay? But that too would require an assumption and would be quite insensitive to a woman who just lost her husband.
Instead, the pastor simply gave the woman a hug and wept with her. It was an absolutely touching moment that moved me to weep as well.
I often contemplate the fragility of life, but want to focus on the power of empathy today. In my travels around the world, moments of empathy have changed my life.
Kamran, from Iran, comes to mind. I wrote about him here. He literally gave us the clothes on his back by opening his cash register and handing us money. Why? He saw we tired, hungry, and lost. We deserved nothing and he provided for our needs.
I think about my trip to Dhaka, Bangladesh earlier this year. When a long-time client heard I was going to his hometown, he arranged for his family to pick me up, show me around town, feed me, and house me.
Oh, there was certainly generosity in both stories above, but the empathy was astounding.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In both cases, total strangers put me in their shoes, thinking of how they would feel if they were a stranger in a foreign land.
We must try to do the same thing, whenever and wherever we can. One component of the meaning of Christmas is that humanity is deeply in need of empathy. Ultimately, we will fail in some degree in our own attempts to offer it, but that should not stop us from trying. We must try harder.
The widow left with her friend last night. She had someone to spend Christmas with. Not all are so fortunate.
If there is someone you have not reconciled with, today is a great day to do it. If you know of someone who may be lonely today, why not invite them over? Put yourself in their shoes. While some might actually prefer the tranquility of solitude, most would prefer to spend this day…and most days…in fellowship with others.
We’re in Germany for Christmas this year, but if we have Christmas at my house in LA next year, I will make it a point to seek out those who have nowhere else to go and include them in our celebration.