Last week, the girls and I went to the Norwegian Consulate in Manhattan to sign a condolence book for families of victims from Norway's recent tragedies. We entered the crowded waiting area, assuming these people were waiting on documentation or appointments with officials. A kind Norwegian man approached me and I explained to him that we were there to sign the book. With tears in his eyes, he nodded toward the line of people around the room.
"They have all come to do the same thing. We never dreamed so many people would show up. We have decided to extend our hours for the remainder of the week to accomodate the many people who want to express their concern."
As we took our place in the long line, I glanced at the others who were waiting. Every ethnicity I could imagine was represented, from young to old, flip flops to business suits, economically challenged to extremely wealthy. All there for one purpose...to show support for a nation in desperate sorrow. I was overwhelmed by this outward display of care for the proverbial “fellow man.”
At one point a diplomat from another country came in. We had been told that when he arrived, he would be taken to the front of the line, as he is extremely busy and couldn’t afford to wait for an hour-plus. But when this offer was extended, he refused.
“I will wait with everyone else. I am no more important than anyone in this room.”
My teenage daughters were listening intently. His words clearly made a mark on them, as evidenced by their conversation at dinner that evening.
“I wish our leaders could act a little more like that man today,” Abby remarked. When asked what she meant, she replied, “Do you think there would be this much arguing over how to pay off our country’s debt if they were saying, ‘I am no more important than anyone in this room?’ Maybe if they cared as much about other people as they do about getting reelected we wouldn’t have gotten into this mess in the first place.”
Then the girls took it a step further, wondering if it were a law in America to do caring acts for other people for at least an hour a week, what would our country be like? What if everyone tried to act more like that man in the consulate’s office?
I know a 24-year-old woman who replaced her dream of being on Broadway with a dream to transform the neighborhood of the South Bronx. That’s fellow-man mindedness. I know a lady in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, whose decision to take in four children from the street eventually turned into an orphanage, caring for 100+ children. That’s fellow-man mindedness. I know people who give up days, even weeks of their well-earned vacations to travel all over the globe for various causes...clean water, health care, education...all in the name of caring for their fellow man.
I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more I want to adopt this fellow-man mentality. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in my own little selfish world. The view’s a lot nicer when I choose to zoom out and notice the lines that connect us all to one another.
“In nothing do men more nearly approach the gods than in doing good to their fellow men.” Marcus Tullius Cicero penned these words in Ancient Rome, but I can just as well imagine him writing them today in Uganda, or the South Bronx, or a hurting community in Norway...or talking them over with a certain diplomat in Manhattan.