Thursday, August 28, 2008

Life is for Giving

One of my favorite musicals is "Les Miserables."  I have read Victor Hugo's book, and seen several movie versions, as well as Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical production.  In fact Jo Anne and I went to see the play in Los Angeles as part of the celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary.  Just a week after seeing the play I had my accident at Laguna Beach.  The music always tugs at my heart because of the tender memories it rekindles. 

A few weeks ago I had an unexpectedly sweet experience with Les Miserables.  I am addicted to Turner Classic Movies and especially enjoy movies from the late 30s through the 50s.  I noticed that a 1936 version of Les Miserables starring Frederic March as Jean Valjean and Charles Laughton as Javert was beginning soon.  I was tempted not to watch it having seen so many Les Miserables productions through the years, but having nothing better to do -- no Dodgers games were on TV -- I decided to give it a try.

I immediately realized it was astonishingly well done.  It was very true to Victor Hugo's book and I was caught and reeled into a couple of hours of absolutely mesmerizing entertainment.

There was one scene that had a greater impact on me in this 1936 production than any other of the many I have seen.  It was when Jean Valjean had stolen the priest's silver dishes and silverware, had been captured by the police, and brought back to the priest's lodgings.  Jean Valjean's life was changed forever when the priest assured the police that he had given the silver to him as a present.  The police looked on in amazement as the priest walked over to the two beautiful silver candlesticks above the mantle and told Jean Valjean that he must have forgotten them.  He proceeded to place them in the bag along with the other silver items.  The priest then said to Jean Valjean in a soft but penetrating voice as he intensely looked into his eyes, "Whenever you look at these candlesticks remember that life is for giving and not taking!"  The confused but humbled Jean Valjean stumbled out into the night a changed man.  The priest's words that "... life is for giving and not taking" became the standard by which Jean Valjean governed his life from that moment on.

I have done a lot of thinking about that line for some time now.  During my lifetime I have been the recipient of countless acts of kindness by many whose lives have been all about giving and not taking.  The addition to our home was built by men and women who only wanted to give and give.  A good friend of ours, a professional wallpaper hanger and very good friend, just spent the last three days in our home stripping off old wallpaper and hanging some new.  Years ago he volunteered to wallpaper our home, which he did, and would not let us pay him.  He is a master craftsman and it is a joy to watch him magically transfer a room in, what seems to me, a matter of a few minutes.  Jo Anne tried to pay him for his work this time and he said he wouldn't do the job if she did.  We will try to find other ways to make it up to him, but of course, that will be impossible.  You know when somebody is doing something for you out of love and desire and not just out of duty.  His example is always humbling to me.  He is but the tip of the iceberg of so many others who have given so selflessly over the years to bless our lives.

The unsettling thought that is always lurking somewhere in the back of my mind is "Am I more of a taker then a giver?" Whenever I go see a doctor or have a nurse come to the home, the first thing they do is take my vital signs.  They check my blood pressure and temperature (I always ask them if I am still alive) and if that is okay then they can begin to work on other problems with the realization that I am not in imminent danger of passing on to the other side.  We probably ought to do a frequent check of our spiritual vital signs that give us a reading of where we are on the "giving or taking" continuum.  If the "taking" is alarmingly greater than the "giving" we may be in imminent danger of spiritual death.

The parable of the Good Samaritan has been expounded by many over the years.  My take on it, and it is not original with me, is that it is a macro view of human nature with regard to giving and taking.  The thieves that beat the poor man almost to death and took all his possessions had the attitude, "What is yours is mine if I am strong enough or smart enough to take it from you."  The mindset of the Priest and Levite was, "What is mine is mine and I intend to keep it and not give it away."  The attitude of the innkeeper was, "What is mine is yours if you have enough money to pay for it."  And finally the Good Samaritan felt that "What is mine is yours and you are welcome to it, and as much as you need, for as long as you need."

I think we would all like to be like the Good Samaritan, but truthfully at times, because of the natural man in us that is still alive and well, we probably are a composite of all these attitudes.  Hopefully by the end of the day we will be more like the Good Samaritan than the other characters in the parable.

Of course, on the broad-spectrum of giving and taking, Christ is on one end and Satan on the other.  One is the great "giver" and the other the great "taker."  Satan only wanted to take everything from us as well as the glory from the Father.  He is still trying to do that through evil people that follow his lead as "takers."  What did Christ give?  He gave us our agency, and the opportunity to inherit the greatest gift we can receive which is the gift of eternal life.  In doing so he gave his life; "Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends."  [John 15: 13]

I really do want to be more of a giver than a taker but I'm not there yet, I'm afraid.  Hopefully we all might someday fully realize and implement in our daily lives the truth communicated by the priest to Jean Valjean, "Life is for giving not taking!"


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