I think the world is changing, changing in a big way through countless little ways – and not just because a bunch of scientists discovered what they called the “God particle” or because a group of legislators passed yet another law and praised their own efforts by issuing press releases.
The world is changing, I’m convinced, because the spirit of goodness is sweeping across the land. How can I say something seemingly so insane when the morning headlines constantly scream about the latest diabolical crime, school shooting and global unrest? Yes, there’s a new atrocity every day.
Nevertheless, these changes for the good are real. Sometimes I spend so much time obsessing about the negative that I overlook the positive staring me right in the face, and if a negativist like me senses a spirit of change and renewal, something must be happening.
It has to be the Holy Spirit. Who else could it be? Our elected officials? I doubt it. The power of the media? Not in this lifetime. Political activists and celebrities? No way.
Yes, the world is changing. I’ve seen evidence, a little step here and a small sign there that things are different ... and will be even more different tomorrow.
I saw one sign of this recently in Manhattan, of all places, on a crowded commuter train that was short of cars. What else is new? (I said the world was changing, not Metro-North.) Some cars had no lights or air conditioning, and everyone had to huddle together.
People were standing in the aisles and hovering over one another, and then in the stifling heat, a young man with an iPod plugged into his ears and thick facial hair, a tattoo or two or three, and one of those mousse-saturated haircuts stood up and blurted out across the train to a young mother and her child, “You can have my seat!”
His gesture was as startling as if someone had begun passing out $100 bills on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street for no apparent reason other than infectious generosity. This simple act was so contrary to New York etiquette and so out of place with our preconceptions of young men with tattoos and gooey hair that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Suddenly, another person did the same thing and then another. It was an outbreak of kindness.
The young man stood for the rest of the long ride to Stamford and was a silent witness to courtesy and kindness. It was obvious that he felt awkward being the center of attention because public kindness calls attention to you in an unkind society.
Someone could have stood up in that crowded train and started using profanities, and no one would have thought twice about it because we’ve grown jaded and accept that sort of behavior as the price for living in a decadent and debauched society. But acts of kindness, which are Christlike, get our attention.
Because our society is so hardened, we no longer expect kindness and decency; they’ve slipped from our social vocabulary like “twenty-three skidoo” or other phrases that fell out of fashion. Those kind acts startle us out of our complacency because they’re infectious. Secretly, everyone wants to be like Christ but it’s just not fashionable out there … yet.
People who are kind and courteous are a small but growing minority. They must be inspirational because the tattooed fellow got others to follow his example in a sort of spontaneous courtesy combustion.
Lately, I’ve witnessed other instances of people trying to change for the better. That’s our only hope – not the next president or the last president, not the corporation or the radio commentator, not the celebrity or the political party, but rather the little people committing one good deed at a time.
The American philosopher William James once said, “I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big success. I am for those tiny, invisible, loving, human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of pride.”
That’s what we need. That’s what is happening. And it’s time for us to become part of the movement because all the rosaries, novenas, prayers, sacrifices and acts of kindness get results.
The Holy Spirit works quietly but decisively. Where there was no love before, love mysteriously and wondrously appears. Where there was no hope before, hope blossoms like a lily overnight. Our united response has to be “Come, Holy Spirit, come.”