During my college time I struck up a friendship with a man a decade or so older than I. He also was a Baptist preacher and had been a missionary to the Philippines. He had found himself abandoned there when his local mission board and the churches sponsoring him declined to bless his marriage to a Filipino lady he had met there. Poor health and a brush with death led him back to the states. When he recovered his health enough to find secular employment, he eventually saved enough money and waded through the red tape necessary to bring his wife and two children to the states. He then returned to preaching.
Ours was an odd friendship, but a good one. I was in my deistic phase, which later took a turn towards cold atheism when my marriage collapsed shortly after our friendship began. He was there for me, really the only one who was there besides my family, during this difficult time of my life. His warm spirituality and genuine kindness probably did much to keep my heart from totally icing over.
Out of friendship I did attend his church services on occasion. He hoped I would again see the light. He worked hard to keep me from lapsing into total unbelief. I was busy just trying to cope with emptiness that had now engulfed me.
During one of the occasions he had taken me to church with him, I had the opportunity to meet his in-laws, who themselves had finally made it over after many years of saving for the event. They did not speak good English at all, but with their hearts they spoke the same language I did, the language of kindness.
It was drizzly evening as I climbed out of my friend's car which was parked in front of the church. I had noticed I wasn't getting wet and it was then I saw his father in-law had rushed over to me with his umbrella. He stood in the rain while he kept me dry, all the while with a warm smile on his face. It was the first time he had ever laid eyes on me, yet he was concerned that I not get wet on my way into the church.
Now it was summertime and I wasn't the least concerned about the drizzle of rain that was falling. But this man's kindness towards a stranger touched me in a way I can't put into words. My friend's wife and her parents were extremely kind and loving people.
Well, sure, there was great gulf that existed between the religiosity of my friend and his family and what religiosity I was struggling to hold on to. But that underlying bond of human compassion struck a deep chord in me.
Religions differ as to the particulars of what they hold to be true about life, but all hold to the spirit of human compassion (although, admittedly, they often hold it stronger in theory than they do in practice). When I began to incorporate the spirit of mythology into my religious thinking, I became better able to overlook religious differences in search of the stronger, unifying stream that lies beneath the rushing, tumultuous current above.
That umbrella proved a powerful symbol to me. It is drizzling outside right now as I'm typing this. My thoughts are carried back over many to years to that evening I met my friend's in-laws. I didn't really need protection from the rain, but I did then and do now so very much need compassionate protection against the rains of sorrow that falls on me from time to time. Through the practice of compassion we can offer something of a shield, even to total strangers, against the storms of life.