Little Things Mean A Lot by George Merrill

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Miss the rain? It will be a while before Eastern Shore dwellers get dry. It seemed recently as though it would rain interminably.

On Thursday of that rainy week, I had arranged previously to take my wife to Scossa’s for her birthday. The prospect of dining out was all the more pleasant since it would also get us out of the house for a few hours and into different surroundings. Our dining expedition was a twofer, a threefer, really, as this also included a birthday celebration as well.

That night it rained relentlessly. Fate, however, was kind to us. As we approached the restaurant by car, an SUV pulled out of a spot in front of the courthouse just across the street from Scossa’s. I could see how from that space we’d have a short hop across the street to make it to the restaurant. I parked. We got out of the car, and as we prepared to make our way across the street I saw three men in front of the courthouse.

Two were standing, and one was seated: all three carried placards and although I could not see what they said, I recognized the men and knew why they were there. The rain fell mercilessly on them, as if nature cared nothing about their undertaking, as indeed it appeared that no one else had, either.

These three were a small cadre of the organization known here as PEACE. For years, PEACE’s mission has been to facilitate fellowship and highlight a vision of reconciliation where they can among the different racial and ethnic residents in Talbot Country. They meet faithfully every Thursday evening at five, rain, shine or snow, summer and winter, standing in front of the courthouse, bearing signs that say peace, no more war and other clips that highlight what I believe is one of the most critical of all our contemporary challenges; to accommodate our ethnic, racial and religious differences without hatred and recourse to violence. I think especially today in our amoral climate where might is right, this message assumes even greater dimensions.

I stopped and talked with the three for a moment, before making our way to the restaurant. I had this odd sensation: my wife, Jo, and I were on our way to a celebration and fine dining in a restaurant, and just a few yards away three men sat and stood quietly in a downpour, bearing witness to truths that I suspect few really want to hear about if one’s life has not been touched by violence and hatred.

At first, the scene appeared bleak. Because of the rain, few pedestrians walked by the courthouse. Since the cars parked in front of the courthouse prohibited motorists from seeing people on the sidewalk the men were hardly visible. It seemed like the witness they were making was wasted, voices crying in the wilderness, unheard. I guess being unheard or unseen for the inclement weather is sad enough but understandable. What is less understandable and more troubling is that few may care all that much about what this group is witnessing to, an issue which is precisely what will determine our destiny as a nation and as a world; learning to live peacefully with our neighbors.

In the restaurant, I heard comments about the rain. One couple joked about how they’d noticed animals beginning to pair off. A woman commented to her dinner companion that perhaps Noah had built a second ark to save a new remnant from the flood. As you may recall Noah’s epic, the flood came as a judgment against a wicked world. Noah tried to tell everyone the flood was imminent but no one listened. He built an ark, packed in his extended family along with some select animals and rode the flood out until the ark landed on Mt. Ararat.

Ancient history has a number of similar myths – about resulting disasters impending because of the world’s persistent hatred and violence.

There’s an old Hebrew legend. I learned of it reading “The Last of the Just,” a novel by Andre Schwarz-Bart, a holocaust survivor. He tells how in every generation the world depends on thirty-six righteous souls, on whose piety the fate of the world depends. As I read it, I imagined the presence of such a small company of good men swallowed up in the enormity of the world’s evils. The thought was both hopeful and yet frightening to consider. How could such a small cadre ever make the world right to God, to each other and save us from ourselves. The just men (women) seem so few to guide so many lost people, just a handful of help to repair the damage of generations. And yet, according the myth, our insane world by its amoral entropy and spinning at the edge of chaos is being righted again and again by a few good men and women whose stunning interventions remain mostly invisible.

It’s little things, barely heard or seen that can be so significant, like a gentle touch to the grieving, or a reassuring smile to the frightened or a softly whispered, ‘it will be alright’ to the troubled.

Do I think of the three men I saw before the Court House like the righteous men in the Hebrew legend? In one way, I do. They fit the profile of the ancient prophets; how they tirelessly held up a vision of hope and healing to a world that hardly noticed them. They are the still small voice of justice and the tiny mustard seeds of faith that, over time, grow into great sanctuaries where others may safely dwell

Little things mean a lot.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

Letters to Editor

  1. Julie Heikes says:

    Beautiful, George, and so true. Thank you.

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