LOVE’S LORDS IN WAITING: PITY
Knights and Ladies of Pity.—Have you seen a baby stroke the face of his nurse to cure her pain or fondle his kitten and say ‘Poor!’ after treading on its tail? That is because there is a little well of Pity in every baby’s heart. To be sure, baby will pull the kitten’s tail to see what will happen, but that is only because he wants to know. Convince him of hurt, and he is sad and says ‘Poor!’ A little girl will come home and cry by herself about a strange dog she has seen beaten; Pity wells up into her eyes, and tears. I know a little girl who never could stand the story of Joseph in the pit. Little boys are sometimes too dignified to cry, but they will run away from a ‘sorry’ story or a ‘sorry’ sight because they know what would happen if they stayed. When people are older, they have too much self-control to cry; but, when they see suffering, sorrow and pain, they too have a pain in their hearts, the pain of Pity. The work of Pity in our hearts seems to be to stir us up to help those who suffer. Many tender hearts have been and are so consumed with Pity that they give up their whole lives to the comfort and help of suffers. You know the story of that Knight of Pity,
Father Damien, who gave up all that was pleasant in this life that he might take the comfort of God to the poor souls on that leper-island in the Pacific; or, of that Mr Peck, ‘the loneliest man in His Majesty’s dominions,’ who left his family that he might witness of the warm love of God to the Arctic dwellers of Greenland. Indeed, if one thinks long and much about any suffers, until their distress becomes real to us, we have a sick pain at our hearts until we can give them help. It is because they have in this way taken thought of suffering that the noble army of martyrs, thousands and thousands of them all over the world, give up everything in life that they may serve the suffering. Sometimes such a Knight or Lady of Pity will work and watch day and night for one sufferer, and sometimes many will share the pitiful heart. Sometimes strangers, and sometimes one’s own father or mother, sister or child, will require and will get the service of a lifetime. Many, very many, suffer in this happy yet sorrowful world; but, thank God, many also pity.
Idle Pity.—I have said that help is the office of Pity; but there are people who like to enjoy the luxury of Pity without taking the real pain and trouble of helping. They say, ‘How sad!’ and will even shed tears over a sorrowful tale, but will not exert themselves to do anything to help the sufferer. Indeed, on the whole, they would rather pity imaginary people who need no help, and it gives them pleasure to cry over a sad tale in a book or play. The tears of such people, who are rather pleased with themselves because they think they have ‘feeling hearts’ are like the water of certain springs in the limestone which have the property of coating soft substances
with stone. Every movement of pity which does not lead to an effort to help goes to form a heart of stone. There are none so difficult to move to help as those who allow themselves the luxury of idle pity.
Self-Pity.—There is another class of persons in whom Pity is strong and ever-active; but all their pity is given to one object, and neither sorrow, pain, nor any other distress outside of that object has power to move them. These are the people who pity themselves. Any cause of pity is sufficient and all-absorbing. They are sorry for themselves because they have a headache, because they have a toothache, or because they have not golden hair; because they are lovely and unnoticed, or because they are lanky and unlovely; because they have to get up early, or because breakfast is not to their mind; because brother or sister has some pleasure which they have not, or because someone whose notice they crave does not speak to them, or, speaking, says, ‘Make haste,’ or ‘Sit straight,’ or some other form of ‘Bo to a goose!’ Such things are not to be borne, and the self-pitiful creature goes about all day with sullen countenance. As he or she grows older you hear of many injuries from friends, much neglect, much want of love, and, above all, want of comprehension, because the person who pities himself is never ‘understood’ by others. Even if he is a tolerably strong person he may become a hypochondriac, with pain here, and a sensation there, which he will detail to his doctor by the hour. The doctor is sorry for his unhappy patient, and knows that he suffers from a worse malady than he himself imagines; but he has no drugs for Self-pity; though he may give bottles of coloured water and bread pills to humour his patient. You are inclined to laugh at
what seems to be a morbid, that is, diseased, state of mind; but, indeed, the Dæmon of Pity, Self-pity, is an insidious foe. Many people, apparently strong and good, have been induced by him to give up their whole lives to brooding over some real or fancied injury. No tenant of the heart has alienated more friends or done more to banish the joys of life.
Our Defences.—Our defence is twofold. In the first place, we must never let our minds dwell upon any pain or bodily infirmity; we may be sick and pained in our bodies, but it rests with ourselves to be well and joyous in our minds; and, indeed many great sufferers are the very hearth of their homes, so cheerful and comforting are they. Still more careful must we be never to go over in our minds for an instant any chance, hasty, or even intended word or look that might offend us. A spot no bigger than a halfpenny may blot out the sun of our friends’ love and kindness, of the whole happiness of life, and shut us up in a cold and gloomy cell of shivering discontent. Never let us reflect upon small annoyances, and we shall be able to bear great ones sweetly. Never let us think over our small pains, and our great pains will be easily endurable.
The other and surer way of guarding ourselves from this evil possession is to think about others. Be quick to discern their pains and sufferings, and be ready to being help. We cannot be absorbed in thinking of two things at the same time, and if our minds are occupied with others, far and near, at home and abroad, we shall have neither time nor inclination to be sorry for ourselves.