I was raised in the Catholic faith but have some major misgivings about the history and present of the religion. Regardless of those feelings there are certain things that stick out from my childhood experiences of religion. One phrase that always stuck out for some reason was part of the act of contrition. When repenting for sins, the prayer asked for forgiveness “for what I have done and what I have left undone.” The second part is what always hit me. That I was not only responsible for seeking forgiveness for the actions that I had committed but also the ones that I had omitted as well.
Several years ago, I had a student in one of my classes. He was one of those kids that was smart but did not care about the class enough to put forth much effort. Since he was a senior, his only goal was to graduate. So that he could get into the army and get away from the problems at home. On a particular day, he and I got into a conversation about his lack of effort. He said “Mr. Huryk, I’m not worried about this class. I’m worried about what I’m going to eat today.” After class I asked him to hang around for a minute. I took out the container that held my lunch and handed it to him. He refused but thanked me for the gesture. After that day, I paid a lot more attention to his mood and weight. It became pretty obvious that he wasn’t lying. He had gotten skinnier. So I packed up a brown paper bag with a loaf of bread, peanut butter, jelly, Clif Bars and other low maintenance foods and put his name on it. I had the secretary in the office call him down right before the end of the day and tell him that someone dropped it off for him.
No one knew who had sent the food but there was no secret that problems ran deeper than just hunger. I talked to my wife about it and she knows how much I try to help people who need it. She said if the situation was that dire, I could offer to give him a place to stay temporarily. I just didn’t know him well enough to take that step. Besides the year was almost over. He was going to pass my class and be able to graduate in order to get into the army and move on. On the last day of class, he asked me if I had been the one who had given him the food. I admitted that it was. He thanked me and said he appreciated it. At that point, I thought I had done my part and I would never see him again. I was right on half of that equation.
Upon returning to school in the late summer, the secretary who had helped with my covert food operation informed me that he had passed away over the summer. The combination of his poor circumstances and some poor judgment sent him to a far too early grave. All he wanted to do was escape the situation that he was in but it just didn’t happen fast enough.
I know that I shouldn’t tear up every time that I think about this. In reality it was not my responsibility to make sure that this kid got off to the army safely. I was almost inconsequential in his life. The issue is that I know the outcome now and can see all of the things that I left “undone”.
We cannot do everything. We cannot save everyone. Regardless of how hard we try. Bad things are still going to happen to good people who deserve better. The reason why I relive this story in my mind often is because even though we can’t save everyone, I want to live in a world where we try to or at least want to. Hate, malice and indifference are easy because they take nothing from the person who puts them out into the world. Kindness, generosity, caring and love require that you give something of yourself and may not get it back. That is a bargain that many people are just too afraid to make. However the easy road ends with us all being alone and separated because the caring muscle atrophies when you use it infrequently. So although it is a painful memory, I will continue to dwell upon what I left undone because I don’t want to believe that it’s not my responsibility to care for my fellow man.
Do what you can, with what you have, where you are!