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Helping each other is the key to good community

By Alison Cameron

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Rev James Currall
Rev James Currall

At the end of Jean-Paul Sartre’s play No Exit, lead character Garcin says: “You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the burning marl. Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is other people!”

After four months of lockdown I’m sure there are some who, having visited Golspie or Dornoch over the weekend, may be in agreement with Garcin.

However, I suspect that far more, especially those who have been shielding, have welcomed the easing of restrictions and are of the view that having the chance to interact with people in person is a significant improvement.

Many people in our society live alone. For some this is through choice, but for others, it isn’t.

The pandemic has resulted in many people being forced to live apart from those they love, unable to visit friends and relatives or be visited by them. This has hit those in hospital or living in care homes particularly hard and it’s good news that limited visiting is now becoming a possibility.

What has really moved me over the last few months, is the way in which people have rallied round to support those who are shielding and the many who are lonely or vulnerable in our society.

Volunteers in all our communities have lovingly delivered food and other necessities and kept in touch by telephone with folk living alone.

Whether or not having other people around might be heaven or hell, surely depends very much on how considerate or self-centred those people are – whether they make life easier or more difficult for those they interact with.

There is a tale called the Parable of the Long Chopsticks about a man who asked to visit heaven and hell. Expecting hell to be a terrible, frightening place, he was amazed to find people seated around a lovely banquet table. The table was piled high with delicious food. The man thought, perhaps hell isn’t so bad after all. However, he soon noticed that everyone at the table was sad and thin. They’d been given 2m-long chopsticks to eat with and they couldn’t find a way to get the food to their mouths – so they were starving. The man was then taken to heaven. To his surprise, he found the situation was exactly the same as in hell. But here in heaven, they were well fed and everyone was happily eating.

The difference: In heaven they were using their extra-long chopsticks to feed each another rather than trying to feed themselves.

In society, spirituality is increasingly seen as purely about an individual’s relationship with God, and nothing to do with anyone else. At the heart of the Christian faith is community – what we call the Body of Christ. In fact Christianity is a faith of relationships, focussed on the community not on the individual. This is clearly expressed in the writing of the apostle Paul and a constant theme in the teachings of Jesus.

As those who have been isolated since March take their first steps into a busy world, they need all of us to be considerate and constantly asking ourselves how we can make life just a little bit better for as many people as we can.

The simple act of saying ‘hello’ can make a world of difference in someone’s life.

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