In the hours, days and weeks since the worst mass shooting in Maine’s history, there has also been a palpable generosity of spirit in our community. Have you noticed? This goes well beyond the outpouring of financial donations in support of survivors. It’s about people stretching their (broken) hearts to make room for others, especially those we know are hurting.

I saw a lot of it in those first few hours of people reaching out to check in on one another. I’ve seen it in very long lines at the grocery store, as those who might have been huffy or rude seemed to have made the concerted effort not to. Instead of expressing their exhaustion, frustration or disappointment, I’ve watched dignified elders making funny faces at infants and bending over without complaint to pick up the odd item discarded on the floor. Children have delivered homemade cards and cookies to first responders, and the “helpers” that Fred Rogers wisely suggested we look to in any tragedy have been easily identifiable — from the support dogs to the medical professionals to those organizing vigils to prevent further gun violence. If we need a snapshot of what our community looks like at its best, this is definitely a time to take one.

These examples of generosity are not entirely surprising, of course. Ironically, tragedies do seem to bring out the best in humanity. When the state of the world reminds us that we are lucky to be alive (and it could easily have been otherwise), we seem to be more inclined towards kindness. We care. We share. We help one another. We allow grace.

But why does it take a tragedy to inspire such generosity of spirit? Couldn’t we simply choose to live this way all the time? (Yes, in fact, we could.) If we need a reason, we might do well to remember that it is always a tragedy for someone. As the saying often attributed to Philo of Alexandria goes: “Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a great battle.” Always, there are hidden worlds taking place inside the people around us — people harbor self-doubts we never know about (even those we think of as self-confident), someone has just received an unwanted health diagnosis, lost a beloved, felt terrified by the state of the world and been overwhelmed by needs they don’t know how to meet. People have also fallen in love, brought new life to birth, found a meaningful vocation and discovered new sources of beauty. When we are attuned to the bigger picture of life for those around us, we can be more “response-able” to see, honor and engage with our neighbors as we work together for the common good.

Clearly, when our hearts are open to the suffering of our neighbors, we’re nicer people. We’re more likely to edit ourselves before we let loose a litany of selfish complaints. We might be more willing to give someone else the benefit of the doubt or consider the possibility that their perspective may have value even when it’s different from our own.

We could sustain this current generosity of spirit if we wanted. We need it, our families need it, our community needs it and the world needs it. Let’s make the intentional choice to do so — not only in this tender time but always.

The Rev. Dr. Kharma R. Amos is the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brunswick,

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