The Turning Away

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand

Anthony Moore & David Gilmour

A week ago in my recovery group, we were discussing the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is an interesting tale regarding a man who is robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the roadside. Three individuals encounter this man, and the way they respond tells us much about who they are.

The first is a priest, who in that time would be somewhat of a celebrity leader. He carefully avoids contact with the man and goes on his way without helping. The second is a Levite, or in our day, an executive. He, at least, takes a look at the man but determines it is too inconvenient to get involved and also goes on his way without helping.

Lastly, a Samaritan comes along. Now the man who was beaten is a Jew, and the Samaritans and Jews are sworn enemies. For the sake of this story, imagine someone whose views and lifestyle are diametrically opposed to yours. Everything about who they are and what they stand for flies directly in the face of all you believe and care about. That was the situation between a Jew and a Samaritan.

The Samaritan stops and helps the man. He goes out of his way, uses money out of his own pocket, and takes his time and talent and gives them to a man who, if they met on the street, wouldn’t speak to one another.

This story was told by Jesus in response to a man asking who qualified as a “neighbor” in an attempt to justify his own actions. Actions that betrayed a tendency to treat people who looked and acted like himself better and ignore or even harm people who were different. Actions that probably looked a lot like some of my actions. After telling the story, Jesus asked, “Who was a neighbor to this man?” The only answer possible was the Samaritan. Ouch.

The song, “On The Turning Away” by Pink Floyd, offers us a view of a present reality and a possible future. Interestingly, Moore and Gilmour wrote this song in 1987, 35 years ago, yet it seems to depict what we see around us today. After describing the problem:

Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away

They give us a glimpse of the possibilities:

Just a world that we all must share
It’s not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away?

The turning away is simply when we ignore the pain others are feeling and don’t lift a hand to help. It is a self-centered response to fellow humans, dismissing them because we don’t understand, don’t agree, or believe it is their fault anyway. It is the lack of mercy and grace that accompanies pride and selfishness. It is simply turning away.

The solution is simple (in that it is not complicated), but it is actually very hard. We have to turn toward. We have to care. We have to help. It’s not enough to stand on the sidelines or walk on by. Being neighbors, a team, a family, means getting our hands dirty and interrupting our comfortable lives.

It starts with compassion—concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. Compassion requires empathy. Empathy is a practice of putting yourself in another person’s place. Asking yourself what it would be like, what it would feel like, to be the other person. Then the difficult part—what would you want from others if you were that person?

In my group, our discussion of this parable quickly turned to the homeless as the present day replacement for the man beaten and left for dead. Many of the men in my group have experienced homelessness and can easily empathize with a person begging on a corner. They had some interesting things to say.

First, I was surprised at who they said often gave them money. They said that people in nice clothes and nice cars rarely gave. Women were more likely to give than men, and often the person giving was obviously in a lower income bracket. Like the celebrity leader and the executive in our story, it seems that having more doesn’t often result in giving more. So, generosity is not about having enough; it is about caring enough.

As they talked, it was obvious that when you are in trouble, financially, physically, mentally, or emotionally, you are at risk for additional harm. You are vulnerable, exposed, unsafe. When you have no margin or cushion, you live in fear of the next blow. A blow you are ill fit to defend. A blow that might move you from down to out.

Finally, they said that while they needed money, what they needed more was someone to talk to who actually cared about them as a person. The worst part of being homeless, they said, was the loneliness. It appears that the same circumstances that lead to being left for dead on the side of the road also lead to being isolated. I heard more than one story about someone just talking to them or telling them to stay strong and the impact that had on them.

We all have basic needs like food and shelter. Providing even the minimum in these areas for everyone should be a mission for all of us. We all desire safety and comfort. We can go a long way toward making our communities safer if we commit to standing up for and protecting those who can’t fend for themselves. The thing we need most is connection. We just need someone to talk to who will listen to us and hear our story. So, ask yourself, can you afford to give a little? Can you stand up and speak up for those who can’t? Most importantly, can you pause on your personal journey to connect with someone who needs you? A community where everyone is turning toward their fellow humans may be a dream, but it is The Kimray Way.