Thinking Anew – Where good people make a difference

There are people who, at great risk and personal cost to themselves, enable us to go on believing in humanity. We can and should support them. Photograph: Getty Images

There are people who, at great risk and personal cost to themselves, enable us to go on believing in humanity. We can and should support them. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Kamand Kojouri is an Iranian woman living in Wales. She teaches at Swansea University and is a published author. Her latest book, a selection of her poems, has the intriguing title God, Does Humanity Exist? The poems reflect on the suffering inflicted on human beings by other human beings across the world, hence the title.

She believes in God, that he/she is “the light that guides us in darkness . . . We all have a spark of this light within us, for we, all of us, live in God. And sharing our light with others, it grows brighter and stronger.”

Jesus could have had no illusions about frail humanity. He was a victim of its very worst, yet never gave up, as we see from his interaction with struggling people. He looked for what was good in people and so, Peter the fragile denier, becomes the rock; the adulterous woman rescued from stoning is given a fresh start; the penitent thief is promised a future; his tormentors are excused because “they know not what they do.” That has meaning for everyone.

Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven, the subject of tomorrow’s Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading, as the society in which humankind reclaims its identity as made in the image of God and where good people make a difference.

Holding on to that vision is part of what it means to be a Christian.

Florence Nightingale, who was born 200 years ago this year, did just that. She was a volunteer nurse in the Crimean War of 1854. It was a brutal affair: of 1.6 million soldiers involved, 900,000 died, mainly from disease. Nightingale, who was certain that God had called her to care for the sick, became known as the Lady with the Lamp following this contemporary newspaper report: “When . . . silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.” A light shining in the darkness of death and disease. Her lasting fame, however, would come later because of her role in establishing the nursing profession we value today.

In a previous life, the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Sarah Mullaly, was the UK’s chief nursing officer. Recently she said of Florence Nightingale: “She was in no doubt that nurses needed to bring science, technical knowledge, skills and evidence to the task of caring for patients, together with empathy and compassion. In an address to nurses in 1873, in which Florence describes the vocation of a nurse, she said: ‘Feeling God has made her what she is, she may seek to carry on her work in the hospital as a fellow worker with God.’ The faith which underpinned her lifelong commitment to nursing could not be made clearer than that.”

The gospel analogy of the mustard seed, “the smallest of all the seeds”, that becomes something much greater is wonderfully illustrated in Florence Nightingale’s life.

We do not have to look to the past to have our faith in humanity restored.

Claire Dunne is a young Irish doctor currently working with the charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). In March she was home after 10 months spent on the Greek island of Lesvos caring for refugees, some of them victims of violence and sexual abuse, and children suffering from unhygienic conditions in the refugee camp. Claire recently returned to Greece as part of MSF’s Covid-19 emergency response. She explains: “Before Covid hit, things were already horrific in the camp with the lack of basic services and access to healthcare. Covid has only made things worse . . . The suffering of these people is very much being forgotten.”

Forgotten, by some certainly, but not by people like Claire Dunne, who at great risk and personal cost to themselves enable us to go on believing in humanity. We can and should support them.

Gandhi said: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

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