I’ve always tried to follow the adage, “Live and let live.” I’ll mind my business, you mind yours, and we’ll all get along. I’m starting to believe, however, that “letting live,” practicing a kind of benevolent indifference, isn’t the consummate virtue I thought it was. Maybe it’s only a beginning. Maybe life deserves more.
When Jesus said he came “that they may have life,” he was offering more than mere being. He was declaring his intention to give of himself that others might enjoy physical and spiritual vitality, providing an opportunity for them to make good use of a blessed existence. “My purpose,” he affirmed, “is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” Abundant life.1
Life may (or may not) continue as we ignore it in pursuit of our own interests; but abundant life—life overflowing with joy, hope, privilege, security, love and meaning—doesn’t just happen. It is a blessing we give each other, a gift of self, a conscious contribution to the richness of another’s existence.
One spring morning, shortly before his passing, my grandfather showed me what this looks like. As we walked through the garden, he stooped to pluck a snail from a leaf, then gently slipped it through a knothole in the fence. To my amused inquiry regarding what seemed an unusual, and probably futile, pest control strategy, he offered only a shrug and a smile, both playful and knowing.
I began to understand when, after his death, I read the journal he’d kept on another spring day, as a sailor in the Pacific in 1945. Here he recorded the “hell” of the Battle of Okinawa, observed through “clouds of smoke, dirt and flame” from the deck of his ship. Those days, which he described in haunting understatement as “nerve wracking” and “trying,” culminated in a visit to another ship where survivors told of “hours putting out [fires], tripping over their own dead.” Among his final entries he wrote, “I don’t want to see more.”
Having seen more than anyone ought of death and devastation, he opened his eyes to the beauty of life. All life. From safely transporting ants out of the house into the yard, to dissolving a business partnership rather than comply with racist policies, he did more than “let live.” He saw, he noticed life, even that disregarded or unappreciated by others. He saw its value, and he saw himself in proper context, not as superior, but as servant. At the cost of his own time, profit and convenience he acted to protect, preserve and bless life. He moved beyond tolerance to delight in it, once opening a letter to my son, “I am writing because I have some important bug information to let you know about!”
Interestingly, my grandfather’s life exemplified the philosophy of a man whose passion for a blessed humanity emerged out of the same war, but from the opposite side. Japanese philosopher, Daisaku Ikeda, entreats, “Let us give something to each person we meet: joy, courage, hope, assurance, … a vision for the future. Let’s always give something.”2
Let’s always give something. Life deserves it.
1 John 10:10 NLT, KJV; word studies and commentary from https://biblehub.com/greek/4053.htm
2Cited in talk by Herbie Hancock, Buddhism and Creativity, Harvard Lecture #5. https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=herbie+hancock+video+buddhism&docid=608047634030330144&mid=E76503D1FE715FA914E0E76503D1FE715FA914E0&view=detail&FORM=VIRE