Living By the Golden Rule
Fr Luke A. Veronis
“There was a time in my life twenty years ago,” the taxi driver Kent Nurburn shared, “when I was driving a taxi for a living. It was a cowboy’s life, a gambler’s life, a life for someone who wanted no boss, constant movement and the thrill of a dice roll every time a new passenger got into the taxi.
What I didn’t count on when I took the job was that my taxi became a rolling confessional. Passengers would climb in, sit behind me in total anonymity and tell me of their lives - revealing intimacies we would never have dreamed of sharing in the normal hustle of life.
One night I responded to a call in a quiet part of town. When I arrived at the address, the building was dark except for a single light in a ground-floor window. I honked and noticed an old woman looking out the window. I was waiting for her to come out but minutes passed. I honked again and then thought she might need some help. What if this was my elderly father or mother, I wondered?
So I walked to the door and knocked. “Just a minute,” answered a frail and elderly voice. I could hear the sound of something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80s stood before me with a small suitcase by her side. The sound had been her dragging it across the floor.
“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she said. “I’d like a few moments alone. Then, if you could come back and help me? I’m not very strong.”
I took the suitcase to my taxi and returned to assist the woman. She took my arm, and as we walked slowly toward the curb, she kept thanking me for my kindness.
“It’s nothing,” I told her. “I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated.”
When she got in the taxi, she gave me an address and asked, “Could you drive through downtown?”
“It’s not the shortest way,” I answered.
“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice facility. I don’t have any family left and my doctor told me I don’t have very long to live.”
I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. For the next two hours we drove through the city as she showed me where she used to work, the neighborhood where she grew up, the elementary school she attended, and the place she met her husband. Sometimes she would have me slow down in front of a particular building and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.
After two hours she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.” We drove in silence to the address she had given me, a small convalescent home. As she got out and I took her small suitcase, she asked, “How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse.
“Nothing,” I said. Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held on to me tightly and whispered, “You gave an old woman a little moment of joy.”
I did not pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. For the remainder of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry or impatient taxi driver? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away? What if I had been in a foul mood and refused to engage the woman in conversation? How many other moments like that had I missed or failed to grasp?
When that woman hugged me and said that I had brought her a moment of joy, it was possible to believe that I had been placed on earth for the sole purpose of providing her with that last ride. I do not think that I have ever done anything in my life that was any more important.
Treating others the way we would treat our elderly parents. Treating others the way we want to be treated. The Golden Rule exists in all religious traditions because it touches upon the most fundamental aspect of human life – we all want to be treated with respect and love.
Whenever we look upon another person, we must remember that they also are created in the image and likeness of God. They have God’s divine imprint. We treat them the way we want to be treated not because we want something in return but because we see God’s image in them just as He is in us!
The true mark of an authentic human being, one who has reached their God-given potential living out the divine likeness in which they were created, is to love the world around us in a Christ-like manner, in an extreme manner. To love not only our family and friends and those who treat us well, but to love and treat kindly the unknown strangers and even our enemies. This essential teaching of divine love summarizes our faith. We were created out of God’s eternal love, we are deeply loved by God, and our purpose in life is to love one another.
Remember, we love not because we will receive something in return. We don’t follow the Golden Rule so that others will treat us in the same way. We love others simply because this is our nature as children of God. Just as God loves us, we love one another. And we are capable of such love precisely because we were created in the image of our merciful, loving, and heavenly Father, whose unconditional love embraces all!
Allow me to conclude with one other story: A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year-old grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. The family ate together at the table but the elderly grandfather’s shaky hands and failing sight made dinner time unpleasant. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, his drink spilled on the tablecloth.
The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess that the grandfather made every day. “Enough of this chaos!” the parents said to one another. So, they set a small table in the corner of the kitchen where the grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner. Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, the parents served everything to him in a wooden bowl! When the family glanced in Grandfather’s direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone, yet, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a cup or spilled his food.
Their four-year-old child observed all in silence. One day, the young boy was playing with some wood when the father asked him sweetly, “What are you making?” Just as sweetly, the boy responded, “Oh, I am making a little wooden bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up.” The four-year-old smiled and went back to work.
The father stood speechless as tears streamed down his cheek. That evening the husband took his father’s hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the rest of his life, the grandfather ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.
Sometimes we need to learn the Golden Rule the hard way. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Yet always remember, the mark of an authentic human being, one who has reached their God-given potential, is to treat others the way God treats us, to love others as God loves us.
Living By the Golden Rule
Fr Luke A. Veronis
Facing Our Uncertain Future
EXTREMIST OF LOVE AND JUSTICE
Our Orthodox Faith