Lasha Morningstar

WE ARE ONE

May 4, 2015

Hearts sang when they heard Pope Francis proclaim 2015-16 extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy.

Mercy, said the pope, is "the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sins."

If ever this world needed mercy, it is now. Usually this word means someone who has power over another forgives, gives the person who has done an alleged wrong, a second, maybe even a third or fourth chance.

However, I love to use that compassionate word like an umbrella, sheltering a broken soul from the judgments and accusations of those who sling poison-tipped arrows of blame and condemnation at people, who, for whatever reason, do not measure up to their standards.

SANDWICHES OF MERCY

Ashley Jiran knows all about mercy. This Oklahoma sandwich shop owner happened upon a man rummaging through her dumpster looking for food.

Shocked, she wrote a note telling him what a worthwhile human being he was and that he should come in to the restaurant and have a peanut butter and jam sandwich, vegetables and coffee. She posted it in the dumpster.

The note, as is the custom these days, went viral. Customers came in and donated money for a sandwich for a person in need. She dubbed it Share the Nuts campaign.

Those who give the free meals have their names put on paper that goes on the wall. When someone comes in who needs a free meal, they simply take a message off the wall and hand it to the cashier.

The idea came from some of her customers, Jiran said.

The reaction to the story surprised her.

"I've been overwhelmed by it," she said. "It's amazing to see so many people support it. It was just something that I thought would be a nice thing to do. I didn't really think anyone would notice."

Jiran knows. She was once poor, buying peanut butter from the dollar store for her and her child. Now she can show mercy to the hungry.

To me, mercy is a verb, an action, not a noun. One does something to show mercy.

To do that, one must be aware, totally aware, of what is happening – to oneself, those around one, be it your relatives, pets, neighbours, fellow workers or strangers.

I remember years ago when, in the depths of a bitterly cold winter,

Edmonton Journal photographer Jim Cochrane burst into the newsroom with this vignette of mercy.

A police car had been stopped at a red light at the top of Bellamy Hill. Suddenly, the passenger door of the car flew open and a young constable jumped out. He dashed over to a streetperson standing on the corner. The man was poorly clad and his hands were purple from the cold.

SHIVERING HANDS

The young cop pulled off his sheepskin lined mitts and put them on the shivering man's hands. The constable turned and jumped back into the cruiser as the light turned green.

"Wish I had my camera," said Cochrane.

Maybe he did not get his photograph but that visual image of mercy in action stayed with all of us who heard it.

One of the most poignant stories to hit the news lately comes from Bill and Denise Richard whose eight-year-old son was killed in the 2013 Boston Marathon explosions. In a front page piece in the Boston Globe, they asked that accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev not receive the death penalty.

SPARE HIS LIFE

"The defendant murdered our eight-year-old son, maimed our seven-year-old daughter and stole part of our soul," wrote the Richards.

Yet they were able to act with mercy and asked that a murderer's life be spared.

Let us all set our moral compass as Pope Francis suggests to include mercy – not just for one year, but forever.

(Lasha Morningstar lasha@wcr.ab.ca)