“You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Matthew 19:19b
Working at the docks had its benefits. For one, the pay was good and working four days on, three days off suited family life. The work itself, once you get a feel for it, wasn’t hard or requiring mental exertion. It naturally attracted men who were mechanically inclined, usually with a background in heavy industrial equipment. It was a colourful assortment of people from various walks of life, from young men hardly out of school to men with years of experience behind them.
With the orientation and training behind me I was placed in crew “A”, working a Friday to Monday shift. It didn’t take long to see the social hierarchy within the crew of thirty men. It felt like high school all over again. The dynamics of interaction between the men would drastically change as Saturday would come. With minimal supervision and the company management off for the weekend, the mice would play with the cat away, so to speak. It was especially rowdy in the lunch room on this autumn Saturday afternoon. The notorious threesome, as they were commonly referred to, were in an agitated, destructive mood, looking for someone to direct their negative behaviour toward that day. Brad, Colin, and Walrus (nicknamed for a slight resemblance to the sea mammal) formed their alliance based on the commonality of their disregard for others and their socially dysfunctional behaviour. Standing six feet seven inches tall, displaying intimidating tattoo images on both of his arms and neck, heavily pierced and sporting a mohawk, Brad was the natural leader of the three.
That day, Kevin (not his real name), a young man with aspirations to be a firefighter, and a real love for his community in which he volunteers quite often, became the subject of their attention. As Brad was bullying Kevin he was met by the look in my eyes, for love does not tolerate disfunction, nor does it stand passively in the face of injustice. We see it in the life of Jesus in John 2:13-17. Love acts!
“Why don’t you stand up, so I can hit you!”, threatened Brad, holding a broken hockey stick in his hands.
“No, but I can jump and kick you in the head”, was my reply to him as I stood right in his face intently meeting his stare.
A hush settled over the lunch room. The air was electrified by the tension. I could feel everyone’s eyes riveted upon us. Time seemed to stop and what might have been only seconds felt like an eternity. Brad, not use to anyone challenging him, surprised and not knowing how to act, let out a nervous snicker. Calling out to Walrus, he made a sly remark and walked away. Breaking tension, the room exploded with applause. Cheering and hooping, the men laughed, enjoying such entertainment.
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” We read in 1Corinthians 13:4-8a. That Saturday afternoon marked a turning point in the life of Brad. With a new found respect, Brad became my friend, confiding to me the heart wrenching story of his childhood. Brad was an intellectually brilliant young man with a university education and hidden dreams for a better self. Growing up in an abusive home and being bullied in school for being a science nerd, Brad had great aspirations of becoming a police officer, to help those going through a similar situation. In spite of his greatest fears, in spite of telling himself that he will never treat anyone how he was treated, he had become the very person he abhorred. He became just like the people who has hurt him so much. Love does not reject the broken, the lost, the unwanted, the outcast. Love looks past appearances and looks at the heart. As I listened to him, never judging, speaking soft advice, never controlling, as I loved him, never rejecting, I began to see changes take place in Brad. Gradually the destructive behaviour was replaced with good responsible work ethics, and outbursts of anger with words of human communication. The changes were so evident that the management, recognizing the improvements, promoted him into a leadership role with the company. And this self professed atheist and hater of Christianity became open to the Gospel. Brad came to love himself and in turn love another.
1 Corinthians 13 ends with these words: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Love has no boundaries. Love breaks all the walls, spans every gap, bridges every void. Love never fails in its ultimate pursuit of human life with a worth of such profound proportions. Knowing the value that love places on other individuals is the rudimentary basis for loving others.
And first loving yourself, in turn you can love others.