Friday, December 13

Try a little kindness


One of the most beautiful stories about Christmas happens to be a true story. It is such a beautiful and moving story that it is worth re-telling.

Every Christmas, we sing songs and give greetings about “peace on earth and good will to all men”. A hundred years ago a group of soldiers didn’t just mouth that greeting; they lived it, albeit only for a moment.

It was the evening of 24 December 1914 and they were in the middle of World War One and on the Western Front, the dreaded combat zone lined with trenches, dug-outs and barbed-wire fences, stretching four hundred and forty miles from the Swiss border to the North Sea.

This place was as near to hell as the men could imagine. They were standing up to their knees in the icy slime of waterlogged trenches.

Stench of death and filth permeated the air, but that was nothing compared to the fear that pervaded the ranks, for just less than a hundred metres away lurked the enemy soldiers, mired in the same desperate condition as they were.

Both sides were conditioned and urged by their political leaders and generals to annihilate the other. (Annihilate they did for this war recorded the highest combatants casualty in history, topping over a million men). It is said that this was where the superstition that it is unlucky to light three cigarettes with a single match originated.

The idea being that keeping a match lit long enough to light three cigarettes would give a sniper enough time to line his sights at night on the unlucky third smoker. Thus even in the respite between battles death could visit suddenly and unexpectedly.

As they stamped their feet in a vain attempt to keep warm, they heard voices breaking the quietness of the night. At first they could not quite make out what it was, and then they were amazed as they recognized the familiar strain of well-known Christmas hymns. Now they could hear the voices as friendly and jovial coming over from the enemy trenches; voices that called out for truce and requests not to fire.

Then the men from both sides started singing carols and songs. Soon the unthinkable happened, shadowy shapes of soldiers emerged from both sides and gathered together in no-man’s land laughing, joking and sharing gifts. Many have exchanged cigarettes, the lit ends of which burn brightly in the inky darkness like the stars in the hymn “O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining. . .”

The goodwill continued to the next day when it was reported that some football games between the enemies took place. The London Times published a letter from a major in the Medical Corps reporting that in his sector, the British played a game against the Germans opposite and were beaten 3-2.

The spontaneous meeting of enemies as friends in no-man’s land on that fateful Christmas day stands as a shinning example of the true Christmas spirit. Those ordinary soldiers, ordinary human beings, were able, in the face of one of the bloodiest chapters of the world history, to rise above the insanity of war to assert their humanity.

In many ways that episode reflects the present world’s predicament. Despite our individual and personal desire to “try a little kindness” there are powerful forces that push the world to barbarity. Everyday we are inundated by the news murders, rapes, bombings . . . the list goes on ad nauseam. Yes, man has really plumbed into the depth of depravity.

In the face of this, one can be forgiven for feeling helpless as so many  bad things, that are happening in the world are beyond our control. The message of the soldiers from that century past gives us hope. Their decision to give a little kindness is like little candles of light that stood defiantly against the darkness of evil.

As we despair at the magnitude of problem facing the world, we sometimes fail to notice the little light of kindness and decency around us. My friend Mohd Ariff had this pleasant and totally unexpected experience recently. He accidentally left his pouch in the cinema hall after the movie. He thought that it was as good as gone. Surprise, surprise! When he made the report some three hours later the staff warmly returned it to him with all contents intact.

This might be small insignificant light of kindness but it is said that even the darkness of the whole universe cannot dim the light of one little candle.

Someone from Sabah sent me this little ditty:

great things change the world,

little things touch the heart

when the heart is touched

great things happen!

— Lee Chye Ewe

This reminds me of a short story:

Troubled man: “Lord there is so much cruelty and evil in this world. Why don’t you send someone to stop it?

God said: “I did. I sent you. The world is made of all the little you’s”.

Perhaps we should take the cue from the American country music singer, guitarist and actor Glen Campbell when he sings

You got to try a little kindness

Yes show a little kindness

Just shine your light for everyone to see

And if you try a little kindness

Then you’ll overlook the blindness

Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets.

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