The key to life is to be found not only in exercising and dispensing kindness, justice, and righteousness, but also in graciously accepting occasions of kindness, justice, and righteousness. Once people stop doing this, they cease to live.
George Orwell once wrote, “Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” You may dream of being happy, you may sincerely wish you were happy, but until you allow yourself to open up and embrace happiness, it won’t be yours to experience . . . or as Woody Guthrie used to say, “Take it easy, but take it,”
I vividly recall an experience in the country of Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, where I was taught well that receiving the goodness coming my way depended upon my willingness to accept it.
I had at one time or another visited all of the individual republics of the old Soviet Union. The history was rich and colorful and included such eccentrics as Genghis Kahn, Timor Tourmaline, and Alexander the Great. Ancient tales of adventures along the Old Silk Road were still retold around Uzbek and Afghanistan firesides.
But over the years new sailing routes replaced the long camel caravans that plodded through the shifting sands of Central Asia, and upstart eccentrics like Stalin, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev exerted their dirty games of civil manipulation on the more recent political chessboard.
Several official applications for medical assistance had been received at our Project C.U.R.E. headquarters from ministers of health, hospitals, and clinics located in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. My schedule would allow me to travel only to Central Asia at that time during the first two weeks in February. My travel itinerary had me flying from the U.S. to Germany, and eventually to Almaty, Kazakhstan, and then to Bishkek and Osh Kyrgyzstan. An epic winter storm, however, changed all my travel plans. I arrived, eventually, at Kara Kulja, Kyrgyzstan, by automobile. The storm was so severe that the entire region had run out of natural gas and electricity. The local hotels had nothing to offer, but I was invited to stay at a local Kyrgyz farm home.
Traditional homes were built on a compound format with several separate buildings joined together by a fifteen-foot-high wall and a large metal entry gate for protection. One building served as a bath house, another building housed the cooking facility, another was for sleeping, and yet another building for eating. We were served dinner on a frayed carpet, and we all sat on the floor and leaned against pillows as we ate. Because of the cold, we all wore our coats during the meal. The hot food, that had been brought in from the cooking building, plus our body heat, served to take some of the chill off the small eating building.
After we finished dinner, the old patriarch of the family invited me to join them as they slept in the kitchen building around the open cooking fire. There was no other heat. I glanced around the small building where we were eating. It was tolerably warm, so I told them that I would be alright staying there if they had some blankets I could use to make a bed on the floor. I didn’t want to impose on them in the kitchen or intrude into their privacy. That was such a stupid choice, but they respected my decision and did not argue with me. They brought in a quilt and some leather horse hides to be used as covers.
During the night the temperature dropped dramatically, and the blizzard moved in with full gale force. The snow began to blow through the chinking of the ancient log walls and covered the floor and my bed. I rummaged through the contents of my suitcase in the darkness of the old room. I was so cold that I had tried to put my head under the blankets. But that had not worked at all. The old horsehide blankets still smelled terribly like the barnyard, and I could count the time duration of my head being under the covers in nanoseconds.
Finally, I pulled from my suitcase all my clothes to either put on or use as covers. I even took a couple of pre-worn undershirts and promptly wrapped my head with them, turban style, in order to stay warm. I actually worried about the possibility of freezing. I kept thinking about the open fire in the cookhouse. Why wasn’t I there?
As the condensation from my breathing turned to ice around my face, the crazy thought from somewhere flitted through my brain: “If you can’t be content with what you have received, be thankful for what you have escaped.” I was going to be thankful for making it through the night.
I could have experienced warmth and comfort only through the acceptance of the hospitality that had been offered. I might have dreamed of being warm. I might have sincerely wished for snuggly comfort, but because I had forfeited the offer to open up and embrace the warmth of the kitchen fire, comfort would not be my experience that wintry night.
In the future, I needed to do a better job of learning a necessary lesson. In order to receive a kind or helpful gesture, I would have to graciously consent to the offer, and then take into my possession that which had been offered. The offer to sleep by the fire did not become mine, because I did not take the offer . . . so, I nearly froze.
Since that cold night in Kyrgyzstan on the plains of Central Asia, I have wondered just how many other occasions during my lifetime I have failed to benefit from some good thing or good experience because, for one reason or another, I did not engage and actually accept and receive what was intended to make my situation better off?
In these days, I am trying to be a lot more sensitive!