What the Bell Tolls in Texas

There’s a twelfth century tale that goes something like this. A particularly pious and devout Buddhist monk was alone in his humble home one dark and snowy evening when he was visited by a thief. The monk, sitting upon the floor, was so lost in a transcendental trance that he didn’t notice when the robber barged in. Seeing his advantage, the thief took hold of the golden buddha that sat in front of the worshipful monk and placed it in his sack. The holy man still did not stir and, it being such a cold night, the robber moved to take one of the two warm robes that the monk was wearing. As he lifted the top garment from the old cleric’s shoulders, the monk suddenly awoke and sped after the thief who ran out into the night. After a short chase, the monk caught the man.  Instead of demanding a return of his things, the monk promptly took off his other robe and offered it to the thief. “The Tibetan winter is long and cold and a man in your line of work will need plenty of warm clothing.” The robber replied in disbelief, “Have you gone mad, old monk?  You are more crazy than holy!” The monk responded with a question. “Suppose I was out in the cold and on my right hand there were two mittens and on my left there was none. My right hand was warm but my left was aching from the frosty cold. What should I do?” Without hesitation, the thief answered “Remove one from the right and place it on the left, of course.” As the monk draped the robe over the robber, he said “You see, that is what I am doing this night. I am you and you are me. We are all part of the same body.”

Now it might not be as Zen as all that, but on a hillside in Galilee, Jesus taught his disciples a similar way to live: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This wonderful rule is often lauded for its power in preventing people from doing awful things to one another. One would steal from another but does not want anything stolen from him. One would curse another but does not want to be cursed himself. One would cheat on another but does not want to be cheated on. Now, this is all very well and good and can certainly be effective, but I imagine Jesus wanted this admonition to be something more than a choke collar. Perhaps we should be more affirmative in our understanding of the Golden Rule; more shall and less shall not. Perhaps we ought to listen because we want to be listened to. Perhaps we ought to reach out because we like being sought out ourselves. Maybe we ought to love because we want to be loved.

Of all the evil that emanates from a mass shooting, one of the most dastardly deeds is done to our society. These sorts of things have an isolating, atomizing effect on our communities. A jaded eye has us see everyone and everything the way that Satan would. While these days certainly call for diligence and a zeal to protect those dearest to us, we must not grow even more indifferent to the neighbors and strangers among us. We must offer more of ourselves to everyone we meet. As the great poet Donne had it: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” It seems the bell in Texas has tolled for us.