“All around the cathedral, the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares.
Although you can’t see it, you know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares.
Though her words are simple and few,
Listen, listen, she’s calling to you.”
– from “Feed the Birds,” Mary Poppins
It may not be a Christmas movie, but I can scarce think of something more perfect to share at this time of year than a song about caring.
I’ll probably comment on the exact circumstances around this quote some other time. For now, Mary Poppins is teaching the children under her care about the world, and what really matters.
There is an old lady, of very humble means, who apparently makes her living selling bags of crumbs for people to feed to the local birds. She sits in a busy square, on the steps of a grand church, and calls out to the people nearby. Obviously, many of them buy her crumbs and feed the birds, else she’d not be able to continue with this at all. But there are many, so many, who just go right past her without even really noticing. They are on “important business” after all: making their own living, supporting a nation, running an empire, upholding fine structures of finance and religion, praying to God in a cathedral, etc. In all of the hustle and bustle, it’s easy to miss one old woman, to not hear her small voice, her simple call, to just walk past without “wasting” time and money.
But what is most pleasing to the powers of Heaven? Or, a more general way of putting it, what is of greatest value to the human soul?
I do not want to dismiss the importance of other things, of course. Nations, industry, one’s employment, and all those other things, they are certainly worth our attention. Just not all of it. It does us no great harm to take five minutes out of our day to do something for that little old woman.
I also do not want to preach guilt or shame or anything like that. I hate that sort of approach, as it breeds little more than dissatisfaction on the one hand and self-righteousness on the other. One must be true to oneself, and acting kind, because of some sense of obligation, is not the same as being kind.
I merely mean to say that it will do us good to slow down, to see and hear and help the people in need right next to us. By which, I mean, that it is a good thing to help feed starving children in Africa, so to speak, but it’s also good to help that starving child we see right in front of us on the street corner.
And it doesn’t even need to be so dramatic as that. The lyrics talk about showing that we care, and there are many ways to care. Volunteering in a hospital, or a shelter, or a food bank, or a library. Playing Santa for some kids, making a healthy meal for a needy family in the neighborhood, baking cookies, raking leaves, helping someone move, etc. Even just a conversation. It just takes a little time and energy, that’s all.
I must admit, I have not always done this. I will always remember this single moment where I was walking one way, and I passed a young lady going the other way, and I could swear she was crying about something. I kept going, and kept going… and then I turned and ran back the way I’d come, but it was too late. I couldn’t find her, couldn’t be the person who cared enough to help her. I might have brightened her day, but I hesitated, because I was too busy.
I remembered that lesson some time later, when I met another girl who might have been upset about something, or maybe not, on a bus. This time, I offered to talk, if there was anything wrong. She assured me I was mistaken, but that was no biggie.
I was happier to be mistaken in offering to help than I was in failing to help at all.