When I arrived at Food Lion on Sunday morning, Taneytown Police Sgt. Steve Sakadales offered me a Santa hat.
Members of the department, including Chief Etzler and Maj. Mitchell, were wearing them for the duration of their annual food drive. There to help them, I accepted the hat, honored to participate. Across the street, Mayor Brad Wantz and members of the Taneytown Dance Center arrived to support the officers collecting donations at Kennie’s Market. Councilwoman Judy Fuller and her daughter, Shae, as well as city clerk Clara Kalman, joined our officers in the task of sorting and delivering donations to local elementary school food pantries.
For five hours, people gave what they could — a single box, a full cart, a couple of dollars, even friendly words of encouragement. Local groups and organizations, such as New Beginnings Christian Learning Center and Toop’s Troops, brought in vehicles full of goods. Even residents from other towns drove in just to participate.
It was, in every way, the gathering of a community of individuals determined to make a difference — and it happened elsewhere, too. Some weeks ago, Mayor Neal Roop in New Windsor led a successful food drive. Across Carroll County over the last few years, little free food pantries have sprung up. This doesn’t even begin to describe the generosity of our people or the things that occur daily in this county and this country.
These are all individual acts voluntarily undertaken from compassion. As we stood there against the sun-warmed russet-colored brick with the cold winter wind swift down from the mountains amid a quilt of cerulean-blue sky and bright, rushing clouds, fellow Americans of every kind came along, asking the officers only a few simple questions: “How can I help? What do you need?”
We never know whose lives we may touch or change by even the simplest things we do. We never know how many people we may help through kindness.
Because of the Judeo-Christian religious heritage of the West, we Americans rightly see kindness as a value. Kindness has become part of the American character, and part of the American identity because of our Judeo-Christian nature.
In the midst of contemporary life, we forget how genuinely good human beings can be. Everyone is capable of kindness. It isn’t always easy, and sometimes it takes courage to be so. But it’s still possible. We only have to look. We only have to do. It is especially apparent at times like Christmas, because those are the times when we especially pay attention.
I thought about these things at the food drive, and the past. I could see the sun-ravaged sands of Judea, stone cities and mud villages, the trespassing, conquering, gleaming legions of Rome flung out to the ends of the Mediterranean world, the census decree of Augustus, and the resulting journey home of humble men and women and their families, nameless in the millions upon whose unknown but necessary shoulders and hearts history was made.
What wondrous and miraculous events transpired from that imperial dictate of the Roman Palatinate throne: a veil God made at the beginning of time, to be torn 33 years from the birth of Jesus, a process inaugurated in part by a ruler less concerned with the souls of men than bringing nations to their knees in blood and telling them to go home and be counted.
But God had already accounted for all souls. His plans would not suffer at the expansionist ambitions of Caesar. It was the soul of the man that God sought, to be given in love, to be given rather than compelled — the ultimate act of human free will: to love.
Love cannot be forced. Love is something that has to be given freely. It is a gift. To love means to recognize someone other than yourself, to know that someone else matters. It was central to everything Jesus did; and it was central to His resurrection as Christ, done out of love for us. As He showed, sometimes love is all you have to give.
Kindness does not require great leaders or immense movements, but reverberates in the humble sound of a reassuring word, or a simple act of love. The Bible, in 1 John 4:19, explains our capacity to love is possible because God loved us, first. He had already counted us no matter who we were. He already knew our names. We matter to Him, and we matter to each other. He showed us the way.
Over the past several weeks Carroll countians have demonstrated that. The result on Saturday was five tons of food collected — plus three more through Mayor Roop’s drive. That amounts to eight tons of food given in love because we know that others matter. “We love because He first loved us.” We love each and every day.
Whoever you are, know that you matter. You matter. You matter. You matter.
Joe Vigliotti, a contributor to The Flip Side and a Taneytown city councilman, writes from Taneytown. His column appears every other Friday. Email him through his website at www.jvigliotti.com.