I once saw an older gentleman who was mentally impaired from birth. A hard enough blow, he had slowly, inexorably drifted into dementia. He cut his head in a fall, suffering the ravages of gravity as so many do every day, every night.
He was Caucasian. His full-time care-giver was African-American. That young man was the only person who could calm the angry, profane mood swings of his increasingly difficult, neurologically devastated charge.
Oddly, ironically, the old man spewed angry a constant stream of racial epithets at the young person who appeared to care the most for him in the whole world. The patient, gentle young man simply said, “Now, calm down. We’ll go back to your room soon.” He laughed and shook his head.
I don’t know what he felt inside. Perhaps he was daily traumatized by the things the old man said.
But if he was, it was not visible. All I saw was the God-breathed kindness of one healthy, capable man towards the brokenness, vulnerability, and child-like dependence of another.
As we struggle to understand how to view hatred, it may be useful to remember this tale from time to time. And to consider that in some ways, the hatred we see and hear comes from people not so different from that frustrated, confused old soul. But where his brain was disordered, in others, their moral sense is disordered; they have stories filled with wounds and memories of dark lessons from other unkind people.
Do we excuse hatred out of hand for that reason? No. But maybe we can shake our heads and smile inside, if only a little, when we consider that even the world is populated with many people who are hard to love; even hard to like.
And that not only do the worst need love, the best are made better by offering it.
Edwin Leap is an emergency physician who blogs at edwinleap.com and is the author of the Practice Test and Life in Emergistan.
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