Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?
(William Blake)

IF A BEAST OF BURDEN IS STRUGGLING UNDER ITS LOAD, “RELIEF” WOULD CONSIST OF LIFTING OR LIGHTENING THE BURDEN. In a similar way, we speak of “relief” among human beings. Relief is “the easing of a burden or distress, such as pain, anxiety, or oppression” (American Heritage Dictionary). Our burdens may not be physical, but they are no less oppressive, and when one person provides relief for another, something happens that is wonderful indeed.

It’s obvious that we live in a “burdensome” world, but it’s not always obvious why that is so. None of us understands completely all of the whys and wherefores of suffering, but even in the absence of understanding, we still have the opportunity to help specific people. Francis of Assisi was probably putting the emphasis in the right place when he said, “I do not aspire . . . to understand pain or suffering. I aspire only to relieve the pain and suffering of others.”

One of the finest reputations that we can have in this world is to be known as somebody that others can confidently turn to in their hour of distress. We can’t make the suffering of others go away, but we can learn the skills, the wisdom, and the courage to lighten their load.

But what about our own relief? When we are distressed, may we desire that someone will help provide relief for us? Yes, we may desire it and even long for it. But relief in the form of help from others may not come, and so it’s wise to take responsibility for our own situation. We may not be able to free ourselves from pain completely, but there is one thing we can do and it’s a great help: we can determine that we’ll follow our conscience. Whether relief from others comes to us or not, if we can end the day confident that we’ve done our best, then our hearts will find some relief. And if we’ve not done our best, the first order of business tomorrow should be rectifying our wrongs and moving ahead. When all is said and done, the key to relief is conscience.

“A man is relieved . . . when he has put his heart into his work and done his best; what he has said or done otherwise shall give him no peace” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Gary Henry — +

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