History can be like wandering through the pages of another’s life, finding the secret compatibility of humanity and hope, of tragedies and resilience. And there, embedded in the stories, are the lessons that belong not to the skeletal narrative of an era but to the deep moral lessons that provide tools for the next generation. Listening carefully as stories unfold opens the past to live in the present and build for the future. Those moments speak to the heart of what it means to be the Good Samaritan: to notice and take compassionate action.
In a crowded New York City classroom full of squirming immigrant and first generation third graders, a young religious, encased in an austere black habit and headdress, entered. It was 1919, a year linked inextricably to the first World War. She was just past being a child herself, and tears streamed from her wide eyes. Children crowded around her, begged to know what happened. She gathered them and she spoke the words they carried through decades. “My mother died, and I did get the chance to tell her I loved her. Remember to tell the ones you love.. ” A century later, in recounting the story, a family recalls that morning, that lesson. Her lesson was in her living, her gift in their receving and the way so many passed the story down to their own children. At the edge of violent world conflict, the very simple expression of suffering created an enduring legacy.
Decades later, nestled near the East River and the Throgs Neck Bridge, a parochial elementary school housed hundreds of local students. The 1960’s were volatile, full of domestic protests and polarities, riots and violence to say nothing of the agonies of the Vietnam War. But here, students used readers full of short stories appropriate to each reading and grade level. And within them, lessons and values ensconced on every page. There were the stories about service, about children choosing to help theirparents, to be kind to each other, to support new arrivals and to reach out to one another. Respect for self and one another seeped from every page. Remarkably, at reunions and gatherings, aging adults smiled and recalled those messages, the applications and the way the stories spoke to later decision making and life experience: so many became public servants, nurses, teachers, lawyers. They noticed, remembered and took action.
Good Samaritans are hidden in the pages of history, but theirs are the stories that offer meat to the bones of chronology of any time period. part of the secret is to become the story teller. It is about rememebrring the goodness, the kindness observed in one another and the lessons learned. Today, in the scramble to become better than who we are, the simplicity of stories and the attentiveness to strangers can transform ordinary encounters to extraordianry experiences. We have the chance to remember the past, to notice what is happening and to take kind and life-giving action with quiet resolution. We have the chance to redefine what history will chronicla if we dare begin to live the story that we would want to be remembered. Humanity and hope have the chance to nestle together in our time too. The Gospel of the Good Samaritan shows the power ot story itself and shows that each of us can play a major role in the lives of others if we dare notice and dare take action.