Mrs. Henry Ward Beecher once said that, when they lived in the part of Brooklyn known as the Heights, they could always tell when Mr. Beecher was coming in the evening from the voices and the joyous laughter of the children. All the street urchins, as well as the more well-to-do children in the vicinity, knew him, and would often wait for his coming. When they saw him in the distance, they would run and gather around him, get hold of his hands, into those large overcoat pockets for the nuts and the good things he so often filled them with before starting for home, knowing as he did full well what was coming, tug at him to keep him with them as long as they could, he all the time laughing or running as if to get away, never too great–ay, rather let us say, great enough–to join with them in their sports.
That mysterious dignity of a man less great, therefore with less of humility and simplicity, with mind always intent upon self and his own standing, would have told him that possibly this might not be just the “proper thing” to do. But even the children, street urchins as well as those well-to-do, found in this great loving soul a friend. Recall similar incidents in the almost daily life of Lincoln and in the lives of all truly great men. All have that beautiful and ever-powerful characteristic, that simple, childlike nature.
Another most beautiful and valuable feature of this life is its effect upon one’s own growth and development. There is a law which says that one can’t do a kind act or a loving service for another without its bringing rich returns to his own life and growth. This is an invariable law. Can I then, do a kind act or a loving service for a brother or a sister,–and all indeed are such because children of the same Father,–why, I should be glad–ay, doubly glad of the opportunity. If I do it thus out of love, forgetful of self, for aught I know it may do me more good than the one I do it for, in its influence upon the growing of that rich, beautiful, and happy life it is mine to grow; though the joy and satisfaction resulting from it, the highest, the sweetest, the keenest this life can know, are of themselves abundant rewards.
In addition to all this it scarcely ever fails that those who are thus aided by some loving service may be in a position somehow, some-when, somewhere, either directly or indirectly, and at a time when it may be most needed or most highly appreciated, to do in turn a kind service for him who, with never a thought of any possible return, has dealt kindly with them. So
“Cast your bread upon the waters, far and wide your treasures strew,
Scatter it with willing fingers, shout for joy to see it go!
You may think it lost forever; but, as sure as God is true,
In this life and in the other it will yet return to you.”
Have you sorrows or trials that seem very heavy to bear? Then let me tell you that one of the best ways in the world to lighten and sweeten them is to lose yourself in the service of others, in helping to bear and lighten those of a fellow-being whose, perchance, are much more grievous than your own. It is a great law of your being which says you can do this. Try it, and experience the truth for yourself, and know that, when turned in this way, sorrow is the most beautiful soul-refiner of which the world knows, and hence not to be shunned, but to be welcomed and rightly turned.
There comes to my mind a poor widow woman whose life would seem to have nothing in it to make it happy, but, on the other hand, cheerless and tiresome, and whose work would have been very hard, had it not been for a little crippled child she dearly loved and cared for, and who was all the more precious to her on account of its helplessness. Losing herself and forgetting her own hard lot in the care of the little cripple, her whole life was made cheerful and happy, and her work not hard, but easy, because lightened by love and service for another. And this is but one of innumerable cases of this kind.
So you may turn your sorrows, you may lighten your burdens, by helping bear the burdens, if not of a crippled child, then of a brother or a sister who in another sense may be crippled, or who may become so but for your timely service. You can find them all about you: never pass one by.
By building upon this principle, the poor may thus live as grandly and as happily as the rich, those in humble and lowly walks of life as grandly and as happily as those in what seem to be more exalted stations. Recognizing the truth, as we certainly must by this time, that one is _truly_ great only in so far as this is made the fundamental principle of his life, it becomes evident that that longing for greatness for its and for one’s own sake falls away, and none but a diseased mind cares for it; for no sooner is it grasped than, as a bubble, it bursts, because it is not the true, the permanent, but the false, the transient. On the other hand, he who forgetting self and this kind of greatness, falsely so called, in the service of his fellow-men, by this very fact puts himself on the right track, the only track for the true, the genuine; and in what degree it will come to him depends entirely upon his adherence to the law.