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The treasures of humanity

I am constantly amazed with the beauty of the human spirit. One of my favorite parts of the visit my husband and I had to the British Isles recently was learning the life stories of several individuals.

Michael is a PhD student in the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. Michael considers himself an atheist and yet he struggles to understand how and why there are still people who believe in the God of the Bible.

Michael has known severe abuse of those who claim Christianity. He has first-hand experience with powerful people in large religious organizations who, though they claim to be benevolent, take advantage of the trust of followers for their own benefit.

And yet, Michael is fighting to find understanding of the inconsistencies mankind lives out in their spiritual walks. The end result he hopes will be that he can find peace within his unbelief or find truth in the faith he has given up on.

Charles is an attractive 24 year old who works as a tour guide, driving a bus into the Highlands of Scotland. He has a wealth of knowledge of the history of the Scottish people and their struggles. An entertaining storyteller, Charles let it slip that his girlfriend left him because he has no professional ambition.

He also shared his love of whiskey and his favorite pastime, drinking to get drunk. Through Charles’ humor I could hear the pain of loss of love and not having a direction for his life.

Then there was ‘Irish John’, an 86-year-old who works as the handyman for a monastery in the Lake District of England. When Irish John was a young man he was a well know athlete in Ireland. He ran marathons, played professional Irish football (which, he explained, is very different than what we know as soccer), and was a tri-athlete.

John took great pride in his athletic abilities. But a terrible accident took all that away from him. For seven years, he could not walk correctly and continues to live with chronic pain. Because of this accident, John lost his identity. He could not imagine living without his physical gifts. The anger consumed him to the point that he lost his marriage and friends.

John lived out this anger for decades and simply roamed from countryside to countryside. At the age of 74, he was bicycling through England and came upon the monastery. Even though he was told they were not accepting guests that day, John insisted he would not leave until he could speak with someone. Now John lives a life of simplicity, service and purpose alongside the nuns at the monastery. He says he has peace. He has reunited with his children, yet he continues to grieve the loss of his marriage and the years of allowing himself to be blinded by his emotional and spiritual pain.

As we traveled across England, one of our trains was delayed an hour. It was a cold, rainy night as we stood at the station wishing we were already at our hostel. A young man approached us and we discovered we were waiting for the same train. Perhaps it was because of his youth, or perhaps because of his obvious anxiety, my maternal instincts took over and I just wanted to take care of Mohammed.

My husband and I were traveling with our daughter, Hope, who is confident in her traveling experiences. She immediately asked Mohammed if he would like to stay with us until the journey was finished. At that simple invitation, he beamed, visibly relaxed and began sharing his story with us.

Mohammed was from a small town and not used to traveling. He had earlier taken the wrong train and was now much later in his journey than he had planned. Mohammed was weary from the day and anxious as he was going to an interview for a promising job. He would not arrive at his lodging until late and had much preparation to do before the meeting the next day.

We found in Mohammed an instant friend, which made the tiring journey much more pleasant. As we got into our separate taxies once we reached our destination, we called out truly-meant best wishes to each other.

These are just a few examples of the people we were touched by during our adventure in a foreign land. Though our moments with them were few, their stories impacted us, caused us to think of what is truly important in life, and hopefully made us better people.

There are the hidden treasure within the people we have the chance to interact with each day.

As you go through today, look for the richness that comes simply by stopping to consider someone else’s journey.

 

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.