“Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast and love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained that you shall live.”
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180, was considered the last of the Five Good Emperors* and revered as one of the most important Stoic philosophers. His work, Meditations, written while he was on campaign (170 – 180) is considered a testament to a life of service and duty. In the two decades of his emperorship, Marcus Aurelius faced invasions from German tribes to the north, clashes with the Parthian Empire in the east, and an internal revolt led by Avidius Cassius. During his lifetime, he acquired the status of a philosopher king, a title that has remained with him long after his death. He may have lived many centuries ago, yet his words have relevance in our world, in our time.
“We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne.”
(*Neva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius)
One of my great-aunts told me one time that she could forgive, but she could not forget. She was true to her word – her memory served her faithfully until the day she died. But I have always wondered, if the strategy for forgive, but not forget brought closure to unresolved resentment.
Lewis Smedes, a prominent author, ethicist, theologian and professor wrote extensively about forgiveness. It appears forgiveness gives us the freedom to practice goodwill to all.
“You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish then well.”
Lewis Benedictus Smedes
Petrarch, known in Italian as Francesco Petrarca, was an Italian scholar and poet that lived in the 1300’s. Considered one of the earliest humanists, his sonnets were deeply admired and emulated throughout Europe during the Renaissance period. He believed that peace was achievable, if we overcame the five enemies that kept us from demonstrating goodwill to others. Longing for peace is easy; practicing peace through goodwill is more difficult. But it is doable.
“Five enemies of peace inhabit with us – avarice, ambition, envy, anger, and pride; if these were to be banished, we should infallibly enjoy perpetual peace.”
“I am for people. I can’t help it.”
Sir Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin, born April 16, 1889, was the most famous film star in the world before the end of WWI and one of the most influential personalities of the silent-film era. Most remember him by his celebrated role as the tramp. Less well-known were his talents as a film director, writer and composer. In 1919, he co-founded United Artists along with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith. His left-wing politics drew the ire and condemnation of Senator McCarthy which brought about his forced relocation to Europe in 1952.
Charlie Chaplin’s goodwill to all came in the form of humour. He used mime, slapstick and visual comedy routines to bring joy and laughter into a world torn apart by war and economic woes. Hardship and poverty were Charlie Chaplin’s constant companions during childhood. He said in later years, “I was hardly aware of a crisis because we lived in a continual crisis, and, being a boy, I dismissed our troubles with gracious forgetfulness.” These words signified his resilience and spirit of determination. His young journey was not for the fainthearted.
At the tender age of seven, Charlie Chaplin was sent to a workhouse and was housed at the Central London District School for paupers. When he was nine, his mother, who had developed a psychosis from what appeared to be malnutrition and a syphilis infection, was committed to a mental asylum. He lived for a time with his alcoholic father, whose abusive behaviour generated a visit from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. And yet through this adversity, he chose to embrace life, to look for ways to bring pleasure in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Charlie Chaplin reached other to others and gave the precious gift of goodwill to all.
If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
I heard about Sister Ludmila before I knew about Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Paul Scott’s novel, “The Jewel in the Crown” written in 1966 and set in 1942 Mayapore, a fictional city in an unnamed British province of India, was my introduction to Sister Ludmila. To be clear, Sister Ludmila was not a nun in the official sense. Nevertheless, the title was appropriate and bestowed upon her by those whom she served: the sick and dying. I recall, as a teenager reading this book, doubting whether a European woman of mysterious origins would give up her home and travel to India to look after the poorest of the poor. It could only be a fictional character.
When I first read about Mother Teresa a few years later, I recalled Sister Ludmila and confirmed that Paul Scott did indeed model his fictional Sister Ludmila after the real and extraordinary woman, Mother Teresa. I was taken aback! Reality was more astonishing than fiction.
In 1946, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, received a call to serve the poorest of the poor. She left her home country of Albania and embraced India as her home. She said: “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.” For over 45 years, she practiced goodwill to all – to the poor, sick, orphaned and dying. When she received the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, she refused the usual banquet ceremony and requested that funds of $192,000 be given to the poor in India. She was asked the question: “What can we do to promote world peace?” Her answer was elegantly simple: “Go home and love your family.”
As we enter a New Year, may we remember that goodwill to all begins in our homes.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt or FDR was the 32nd President of the United States (1933 -1945) and the only one elected to more than two terms. His theme song during his 1932 election campaign was “Happy Days Are Here Again,” a sharp contrast to the worldwide economic depression that was currently in full force.
As I look forward to a New Year of unknown outcomes, I think of FDR at the beginning of his first term. Did he know that he would lead his country through a horrific world war? Did he see an end to the suffering caused by the Great Depression? History records his accomplishments: a New Deal Coalition that realigned the political landscape after 1932, domestic policies that introduced a variety of programs designed to produce relief, recovery and reform, international policies that fostered cooperation, and supported the United Nations and Bretton Woods.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the personification of goodwill. May we remember his legacy as we enter a New Year…
“We are trying to construct a more inclusive society. We are going to make a country in which no one is left out.”
“If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships – the ability of all people, of all kind, to live together, in the same world at peace.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt