Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Today (as of the writing of this blog) my friend posted a meme that reads, “You would be surprised at who is watching your journey and being inspired by it.” I will never understand why, but it seems like the most endearing personality traits are obtained through struggle. Some of the most generous people have or have had nothing at all. Some of the sweetest people I know have suffered terrible atrocities. Some of the most compassionate people I know have suffered incredible struggles. And when I think of these generous, sweet and compassionate people, I cannot help but feel that these are the people who deserve better.
The hardest steel must be tempered through a cycle of burning and cooling. When forged in fire, steel loses its brittleness, making it more flexible, and it is this very flexibility that makes it strong. Perhaps that’s the clue. People who have suffered understand the pain associated with it and are less likely to want to see others go through it. They become more flexible in their world view, making them stronger people for it.
Relationships forged in fire are often exceptionally strong. As an outside observer, it has always seemed as though minorities tend to have very strong connection to others in their demographic. By comparison, I’m a white male. White men don’t have the connection I seem to see in others. We don’t defend one another as readily even if we don’t know the other person, and we don’t trust each other as much. Now, I must admit, this is just the way it seems to me, but as an outside observer, this is the way it has always looked to me. And yet, as a white man, I’ve never been oppressed either. I’ve never been pulled over for some minor excuse and pulled from the car and patted down as a canine searched for drugs. Injustices of this sort should never happen, but the reality is that they do. Maybe that increases empathy.
The military is similar. Having been through training together, knowing what everybody has been through, facing hostile forces (or the knowledge that they may be deployed to do so at any time) seems to create a comradery that I cannot understand as I was never in the military either. Yes, this is something that I feel bad about, but to be fair, had I gone to the military, the most action I would have potentially seen in Grenada anyway. But my friend went into the Air Force, and I know that he feels a connection with other air force service members past and present.
The closest I suppose I’ve come is with the Freemasons. Recently, for some odd reason, I was going through my wallet in the presence of a friend looking for something when I came across an item that, frankly, I had forgotten that I still carry. It’s a coin, inscribed with a symbol unique to me in the center, carried by all brothers who have been through this particular branch of Masonry. This coin represents a favor in a time of grave need. If I find myself in terrible peril, and I know of a brother who is of the same training, I can present my coin to him, and he is obligated, to the best of his ability while doing no harm to himself, to grant my request. He will keep the coin until the favor has been successfully completed, upon which time he will return it to me. The Masons represent a brotherhood, with symbols, gestures and traditions to provide support to one another in recognition that we are all brothers. It has been suggested (and there is some evidence to suggest it might be true) that the Freemasons were made from the remnants of the Knights Templar after their betrayal and subsequent arrests, tortures and murders. Most Knight Templars escaped this fate, but in doing so were forced to flee their homes and homelands, no doubt greatly supported by the secret gestures and modes of recognition developed from their days of transporting wealth through enemy lands from stronghold. If there is validity to this hypothesis, it goes far in explaining why, even today, the Masons represent a brotherhood of trust and support.
As I get to know people who are generous and kind, I often wonder what they might have gone through, but, unfortunately, we can’t really ask. It’s just not proper until you know them well enough that they want to share it with you voluntarily, then, maybe, you can ask follow-up questions. In New York City, I had this friend (I hope she’s doing well) who was, frankly, just gorgeous, but she also had a scar extending from the edge of her mouth to about where her jaw began. The scar was pronounced, and I always wondered what the story was, and yet, I certainly didn’t know her well enough to ask. I can tell you, though, that she was very sweet. Whatever caused it, I’m sorry it happened to her, but I’m so glad she is the person she became.