Side Talks with Girls/Chapter 18
THE MANTLE OF CHARITY
T is the one garment the fashion of which never changes. The years may go and come, and yet she who cloaks herself in this mantle is at once happy herself and the giver of happiness. In cut it never alters. It is always large and full, so that it can envelop those who are unhappy and give them warmth and comfort. Like the cloak worn by the prince in the fairy tale, it is invisible to all but those whose eyes are made clear by faith. It is the garment that I would like my girls to wear. It is true that much patience and much self-denial are required before this cloak is put on, as it should be, for all time; but once assumed, the amount of joy to be gotten from it, and the happy heart-beats to the wearers of it, cannot possibly be overestimated.
UNDER THE GOOD CLOAK
It is almost impossible for you to listen to unkind words, yet I want to tell you of the different methods of repelling gossip should it come to you. This kind of chatter, which isn't always evil, is, unfortunately, the beginning of that gossip which in time drifts into being malicious, and induces the speakers to think that a clever thing, even if it is bitter and sarcastic, is right and proper to say. Now, you who are bright and merry can stop this sort of talk very quickly, and the best way is by showing not only an absolute indifference to it, but by being so quiet that your stillness attracts attention; then it will soon dawn upon the talkers that your silence means scorn.
"But," says my bright girl, "suppose they are saying disagreeable things of my friend?" Then, of course, you must defend her, but be careful in your defence. Make it a quiet and reasonable one, and not an excited defence that is without argument, and which only tells how much you care for the friend against whom the disagreeable words are being said. Sometimes, more is the pity, the truth is told, but told in a hard, unkind way. Then, if I were you, I should say, "That is true, but this girl is my friend, and I, for one, would rather not hear it. Suppose we all think of the worst about ourselves and how an account of it would sound if it were told." In the presence of scandal-mongers take under your mantle of charity all those people whom you can defend, and show your contempt for evil-speakers by defending the right if you can; or by keeping perfectly quiet.
FOR EVERY-DAY USE
Not just for festive occasions. For your cloak must be worn all the time, and your charity must be not only of words and deeds, but of looks. A pleasant smile will sometimes make a great many people feel happy when before they were all, as the children say, "as cross as sticks." Charity really means consideration. When you go into the breakfast-room you may wonder that your mother is quiet and seems a little troubled and not very much interested in the idle talk of the children. Be sure that to mother's brain come many worries and frets; she has to think out the arrangement of the household; she has to consider how best the limited sum of money can be disposed of, and so you must bring to her presence all the consideration you can, and try and lift at least some of the burdens from her shoulders.
You are employed in an office; you may find your superior a little irritable, inclined to be fault-finding and showing himself anything but pleased at the morning events. Go along and do your work properly and exactly; when spoken to answer pleasantly; do what is absolutely right, and if fault is found with you you can afford to forgive it because you know that time will prove all things. While you have a minute to think, remember that you sit at your desk or your typewriter, and when the end of the week comes draw your salary, and the only responsibility on your shoulders is to do good work, whereas your employer has to study the needs of the market, has to submit to being a loser when the days are dull, and bears on his shoulders the burden of many of you who simply do your work and draw your salaries. Charity toward employers is, according to the newspapers, out of fashion, but I like to think that my girls know how valuable it is in its use toward every one with whom they may come in contact.
THE ONE WHO NEEDS
To most people charity represents giving. In reality it means as well the giving of kindly words, of material help, or whatever may at times be needed. Many young women think that the giving of a little money here and there constitutes all the acts of charity they need to perform. Now, giving, from a charitable stand-point, is utterly worthless unless it is accompanied by self-denial. Therefore, make the purse of good gifts one well-filled with acts of renunciation. It is not difficult to deny one's self a little pleasure that somebody else may be made happy, and I wish very much that some of my girls could know how, in the working world, there are girls to-day who are busy and happy all the time, and yet whose earnings go to help some one who is close to them, or to make a home for one of their own who needs it. How easy ought it to be, then, for you to deny yourself the box of sweets, the gay trip, or even another bright ribbon, that some one else may be made happy. You ask to whom shall you give. First of all to those of your own family who need. If this were done as it should be there would be very few poor in the world. Then you can extend your charity, and you will not have to go far to seek objects for it, as you will certainly find them, if you inquire, close at hand.
GIVE WHAT YOU CAN
If you do not have the luxuries of life, if you do not handle much money, you can still give and give lavishly, because you can give of your kind. The half-day spent in helping your pretty cousin to make her gown, the hour devoted to reading to some one whose eyes are not quite as strong as they used to be, and the cheerful visit paid to some one who is ill—all these are acts of charity that will stand out like golden stars opposite your name on the judgment-book. The girl who wonders listlessly what in the world she can do to help anybody need only open her eyes very wide and she will quickly discover. In every family, in every neighborhood, there is work of this kind to do, and while it would not be called charity work, still it is that, for charity pitieth much. A few cheerful visits, a few kindly actions, and a few cheerful words are worth more than all the pennies that were ever collected for the heathen. For we have so many heathen at home, and the best way to reform them is by example.
ANOTHER FORM OF CHARITY
That is consideration for the young and the awkward. The young girl or boy may not know just the fork that it is proper to use to eat some special dish with, and you are doing a kindly act when you quickly pick up yours and so end the embarrassment. That other boy who in the parlor dance or the game always seems to knock things over and to make everybody conscious of his arms and feet, can, by a little care on the part of the considerate girl, be guided in such a way that he will become a pleasure rather than a horror, and remembering, after his departure, how easy it was to be graceful, he will think over and take to heart the lesson so gently given to him. I tell you, my dear girl, there can be no happy life without charity, and you not only want to pray for it day and night, but you should practise it so persistently that it becomes part of yourself. When you hear somebody say, "I like that girl, 3-011 never hear her say anything disagreeable, and she always makes people feel comfortable," conclude that that girl has simply learned the beauty of charity, and assuming its mantle has taken under its shelter those who were shy, who were troubled, or in pain. I do not think a charitable girl reminds people of the follies that have brought about certain results, but while she tries to cure the pain, and eventually succeeds, she lets the sufferer think out for herself how it all came about, and how a pleasant folly was succeeded by much sorrow.
Nobody who makes a mistake likes to be told that they were warned about it before. The "I-told-you-so" habit is one that is more uncharitable than almost any other, because it is unprovoked. Your friend undoubtedly thought that she was doing right, and when she makes a mistake it becomes your place not to remind her of what led up to it. She has learned her lesson sadly and sorrowfully. The harsh method of treating her suffering, of tearing her wound apart and pouring acid upon it, is not that which Christ would have commended.
THE WAYS OF CHARITY
Many hundred years ago the God-Man said that only those who were without sin should dare throw a stone at a sinner. So you who are going to walk in the ways of charity must learn, first of all, to control your tongue. You have no right to judge any human being. You know nothing of the temptation, you know nothing of the temperament that made it so easy to yield, and you do not know what the motive was when the poor sinner first started to do what afterward turned out to be all wrong. You know that she told a lie. You don't know what she told that lie for. That it was wrong nobody can doubt. Maybe it was told to hide poverty; maybe it was told to protect some one else; maybe it was told without thought. Nothing can make it right. But be a little charitable in your judgment. Try and put yourself in that girl's place, and if you succeed in doing that you will be surprised to discover that under the same circumstances you would probably have done much worse.
Sometimes people are branded with sins that they do not commit; but the world accuses them and the uncharitable stand afar off and condemn, and the noise of that sin is heard far and wide, and there is no one to speak. Immediately under my own eye something happened not long ago that proved how utterly foolish it was to judge people without proof, and, indeed, how sinful it was to judge them at all. A young woman at a watering-place lost a brooch; she declared it was stolen, and insisted that she believed it to have been taken, not by some of the servants, but by some of the young girls in the house who had frequently visited her room and admired her jewels. She did not openly accuse these girls, but whispered her accusation until three of them found themselves almost ostracized. She went away, and after her departure one of these girls appeared, wearing, as it was said, the stolen pin. This was house gossip for a week, and at the end of that time a woman declared her intention to speak to the girl. She asked her where she got the pin. The girl told her it had been sent to her by her father for a birthday gift. She was then told that it was believed that she was a thief. Her father was telegraphed for, and when he discovered the state of affairs he had a detective brought. While a close search was being made a letter arrived from the woman who had lost the pin. In it she said: "I forgot to tell you, but three weeks ago I found my brooch hidden away among some lace just where I had put it myself. Of course, it wasn't stolen, and I am sorry anything was said about it." It was a little late to be sorry, for the girl who had been accused of being a thief was lying ill with a fever brought on by excitement, and the other two girls were both ill with nervous attacks. Surely no one in that house wore the mantle of charity, for there hadn't been a woman to defend those girls, and almost everyone had, without a thought, condemned them. The ways of charity are broad, making one think well before speaking, and always giving to the one accused the benefit of the doubt.
ANOTHER WAY OF CHARITY
You think the way to Heaven requires the walking over a certain path of belief. Your neighbor believes that it is approached by another, and her neighbor by still another. You all have faith in the same great truths and only differ in a few forms. Yet, if a discussion should arise, one would think from the way you speak that your neighbor worshipped graven idols, and that into her religion there came nothing that was beautiful, or good, or lovely. You bitterly condemn her ideas in regard to music, or whether she should kneel or stand when praying to the good God, and you wonder how in the world she can expect a happy hereafter when she doesn't elect to follow certain ceremonies here. Now, judge yourself. What must God think of you? He said that in His Father's house there were many mansions. May there not be many paths leading to them? And you who claim to be upon the right one, so far forget the very first of the virtues of pure religion, charity, that you condemn your neighbor. She goes along her way pouring oil upon the wounds of the sick, giving drink to those who thirst and a helping hand to whoever may need it, while you do not hesitate to say that her way is wrong. I don't like to think that any one of my girls is like this, and yet youth is inclined to be severe.
Charity should pervade the whole of life, just as the fresh odor of the trees fills the air with a thousand sweet scents. It should make the words that you say better, the deeds that you do worthier, and so permeate every act of your life that to the world at large you yourself seem an outward sign of goodness and kindness. Truly it is a beautiful thing, the possession of this virtue. Faith and hope stand beside it, but lo, it is the greatest of all. You and I will pray for it, so that life may become more beautiful.