Her phone’s quiet ding signaled an incoming text message. She picked up her phone and read the message, then gasped in disbelief. “One of our customers just left a check at the counter for $1,000, to be split between myself and three of my co-workers. He said that he wanted to help us out in case the restaurant closes because of the virus. He knows it will be tough on us if we start losing income.” A close friend of Someone To Tell It To, the recipient works several days a week at a local coffee shop. She was stunned and elated at his generosity. “Wow!” we responded, so happy for her. His gift was magnanimous, thoughtful. “He must come in often.” “Yes. He’s there every day.” “It says a lot about him. It says a lot about you and your co-workers. You must have impressed him.” “He’s an older gentleman who won’t join the rewards program we have there, to get free coffees or pastries. He insists on paying full price. He’s really very nice.” “Do you think the shop’s going to be closing?” “Well … since the end of last week each new day has brought new changes to how we’re serving customers. First, we intensified how much we clean and wipe down surfaces. Then we went to using all disposable paper products so that no one was using any cups, plates, or utensils that others have used. Next came a change in the way we handed people their orders. Now it looks as if we may go to take out and online orders only. I’m thinking the next step is that we may close all together. So many other places are. I see it coming.” With each new day comes new restrictions, further closures, and changes we’ve never seen before. The restrictions and changes impact everyone. Adaptations abound. Uncertainty rises. Anxieties skyrocket in the age of coronavirus. Yet even in dire circumstances, a man walks into a coffee shop, perhaps for the last time for weeks, and offers a gift of reassurance. He offers it freely, without fanfare, quietly, without need for recognition. He offers what he can to reassure some of those whom he sees every day. In the age of coronavirus, he wanted to lift them up, to help them make it through. When other means of support are, one-by-one, being taken away, he steps up to ease a burden that surely weighs on their minds and spirits. In this season of the coronavirus, the question for each of us to ask is this – “How can I reassure someone today that they are not alone and that together we can make it through?” In a beautiful book we’ve been reading together for the second time, The Book of Joy, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu share a week together in the Dalai Lama’s home, in Dharamsala, India. While celebrating the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday the two Nobel Peace Prize honorees come together to give a gift to the world by answering this question: How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?
We hope you’ll read the book. It is touching and hopeful. Encouraging and helpful. In it, the Archbishop reminds us, “… by proxy we link ourselves to those (who exhibit great courage and selflessness by entering into situations in which others are suffering, in order to help them) and try as much as we can to enter into who we are: people of compassion …” “We’ve always got to be recognizing that despite the aberrations, the fundamental thing about humanity, about humankind, about people, is that they are good, they are made good, and they really want to be good.” “Yes, there are many, many things that can depress us. But there also are very many things that are fantastic about our world.” The Dalai Lama responds: “I think you are right. When bad things happen they become news, and it is easy to feel like our basic human nature is to kill or rape or to be corrupt. Then we can feel that there is not much hope for our future … “When we look at the news, we must keep this more holistic view. Yes, this or that terrible thing has happened. No doubt, there are very negative things, but at the same time there are many more positive things happening in our world. We must have a sense of proportion and a wider perspective. Then we will not feel despair when we see these sad things…Despair turns us inward. Hope sends us into the arms of others.” From men who between them have endured soul-crushing violence, death threats, exile, and debilitating disease, these words and their story resonate strongly with us in a time such as this. The stories in these archives and the tales that we hear in our compassionate listening non-profit demonstrate that this is a time when reassurance is most especially needed. Social isolation is an essential measure in stopping the spread of the disease. Still, it has an impact on mental and physical health. The Corona Chronicles demonstrate that we should think compassionately about our friends, family, and even strangers. One bright spot in this unfortunate situation is the fact that we have been able to witness incredible acts of generosity.
** This post is a modified version of a story that appeared in the Someone To Tell It To Blog. It was written by leaders of a compassionate listening movement, Michael Gingerich and Tom Kaden. We are sharing it with their permission.**