It’s easy to feel powerless in a world gone mad.
I see footage out of Aleppo and want to scream with rage. How can the world do nothing?
I see hatemongering and anti-Semitism in plain sight. How can parents and politicians say nothing?
It’s enough to make you anxious and depressed. And in the spirit of Sukkot, it’s worth noting that these are just variations of timeless questions that Ecclesiastes once dealt with in Jerusalem. In light of evil men doing evil things with impunity, he wrote
“Here is another frustration: the fact that the sentence imposed for evil deeds is not executed swiftly, which is why men are emboldened to do evil – the fact that a sinner may do evil a hundred times and his punishment still be delayed.” (Ecclesiastes 8:10-12)
It leaves one to wonder – will there, in fact, be judgment for the murderers and vile racists in our midst? And really, who knows. After all, “in respect of the fate of man and the fate of beast, they have one and the same fate…both came from dust and both return to dust” (Ecc. 3:19-20).
Maybe the wicked are gaming the system. Maybe they’re not. You don’t know and neither do I, so as usual, it’s a matter of what you choose to believe. And here’s what I think: we have to do what we can to do the right thing, if not for some future benefit in the world to come, then definitely for the benefit of the world we live in today. And sometimes, it’s a small thing that you do that reminds you about the power we do have to change things for the better.
I was running last week at night through town, plodding along quietly at a very recreational pace. I run through the neighborhood at least 4-5 times a week and know every distance of every leg of that journey like the back of my hand.
As I ran towards a quiet intersection, a car turned the corner and drove past me, like has happened hundreds of thousands of times before. No big deal. But as it passed me I heard a little bump and turned around.
And tragically, I saw a cat in the road about 10 yards behind me. I’m sure the driver didn’t even notice it run out into the street in the darkness and chalked up the bump to a stick, or a squirrel, or a branch.
As I ran over to it, it struggled to move. It raised its paw. And as I picked it up, it gasped its last breath and died in my arms.
I was devastated.
I lay it in the grass and on some leaves on the side of the road, and finished my run choking back tears. I thought about my own cat. I thought about my kids. I thought about bad luck and an uncaring God. I thought about mortality and fate. And, connected to Sukkot and Ecclesiastes, I thought about futility. Oh, the futility of it all.
When I went back to check on it the next morning, it was gone. I was disappointed that I hadn’t thought to take a picture of it the previous night and hoped that the owners had found it.
The next day on Facebook, my wife posted about the cat and what I saw, and quickly we were able to connect with the owners. I was pleased to learn that they had found the cat and taken care of the body, and I was glad to be able to tell them about what had happened in those final moments. We actually met up with one of them and I was moved by how touched she was that my wife had thought to post on Facebook about the incident and that my small gesture had meant so much to her.
So what is the message here? Perhaps it’s that we are swimming upstream against a terrible current of calamity and intolerance, so much so that we all need to be more attentive to the little things to keep us sane. I saw a lot last week on social media about the benefits of focusing on being a better person, holding doors, smiling, being kind to strangers, and the like, and I think it’s definitely worth noting, and noticing, how doing a better job on the little things can only have a positive impact. And sometimes, one small act of kindness will have implications that you never expected.
So go ahead, I dare you, start taking care of the little things right in front of you. It’s certainly worth it.