A diligent life…appointments and tasks all planned out. In fact, everything is so detailed that not a minute is wasted. Nor is there a minute for anyone else. And by the way, don’t get in my way.
The middah of diligence taken to an extreme doesn’t leave any corners of the field in our lives for anyone else. While indeed it is an imperative that we use our time wisely, one who doesn't have a minute in life for the engagement of others is missing the mark. Not just that, we are just walking by our fellow with no regard.
We see this illustrated in the story above as two out of the three travelers were too concerned or consumed with their titles of business and the importance of them. True, the Kohen indeed had to keep himself pure and certainly he should abstain from touching the dead, as laid out in the laws of Torah. Sure, the Levi had much to do and might have had something pressing. But did either make any attempt to discern if the man on the side of the road was alive? And if he was dead, shouldn’t there have been an attempt to draw attention on the roadside so someone else could have performed the mitzvah of affording the man a respectable burial? Could anyone truly be that busy?
Sometimes our motivations, however diligent and respectable, give us the false idea that we can shirk responsibility because we have something more pressing at hand. Or worse yet, sometimes we imagine that the pressing task at hand allows us a carte blanche to mow down everyone in our way so we can see our mission to through to completion.
While it is true that we are to be diligent with our time, we are also give this exhortation:
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.” Ecclesiastes 9:10
By this very token, whatever we come upon, even in the midst of our diligent use of time and our to-do laundry list, we must give our attention to it if it is merited.
don't just walk on
I recently went to the Seattle Public Library so I could hole myself up in its architectural massiveness and work on a project undisturbed for hours. After finally arriving from a multitude of errands, I heaved a sigh of relief, snagged a tea, and entered the elevator to find my way up to a space of refuge. Jasmine tea, no interruptions – this was going to be very productive. Since I am a very diligent person, I really do plan my minutes out pretty meticulously. Having schooled my three children rigorously at home for ten years, I didn’t have time for dawdling if I hoped to finish anything.
As I entered the elevator and hit the button for my floor, I was on my way. No sooner had I pressed the button, a man who was in the elevator asked me almost immediately if I knew how to use a computer. He began to show me job listings that he had acquired and tell me how he needed to apply for them online. My heart was moved for him, and certainly I couldn’t say no. But I have to say for a few seconds, I felt possibly like the two characters in the story above; my mind started racing how I was supposed to call my mother in an hour, and if I helped this man I wouldn’t even start working on my project for at least another two hours. It almost seemed like my library venture and quiet time of isolation was nearly thwarted. I was being challenged at this particular moment to give of myself when it wasn’t particularly convenient for me, but crucial for this dear soul in need.
It then occurred to me that this man was like the man lying on the side of the road in the story above. I didn’t have the right, no matter how pressing my tasks were, to leave this man stranded. His fate could be in the balance if I didn’t act and reach out. He was calling out for help and that was my task at hand at that moment – my plans were irrelevant. This became more apparent to me as I waited by the desk to reserve the computer time for him- basic things like remembering his library card, writing down his patron number (unsuccessfully even after contacting someone down a few floors), and performing even basic computer skills with proficiency were all extremely challenging. I couldn’t even imagine how he was going to hold down a job, let alone how he was supporting himself to begin with. He was on the side of the road, struggling, and I wondered how many others had walked by him that he was in this desperate strait.
unplanned mission accomplished
After spending an hour with this gentle and friendly soul at the library, we managed to apply for one job and I helped him on his way with applying for more with the same company. I let him know that I had a phone date with my mom, which indeed I did, and with that we parted ways with a warm handshake and a goodbye.
As I look back on that day, it is true that I didn’t get accomplished the work which I had hoped. But I realized something more important that day that surpassed any amount of work I could have done: that is that there are many moments in our itinerary that are not listed out for us. Because of this, it is our job to leave “corners of time” open for those around us – flexibility in our lives – for those who are in dire need of help. There will many stranded in life who need us to be able to pull over, off of our busy highways of life, and give attention to them in whatever capacity is necessary. Are we willing to give of our time in a greater way than we would otherwise be willing? Or do we drive by and leave people on the sides of the road of life for naught? Or do we do good only when it is convenient?
Practice diligence this week with all your might – but make sure that your diligence is not myopic. Keep your peripheral vision open so that you can see those around you, outside of your focus, who may need you. This is truly diligence perfected…