Lending a helping hand
Published 02/10/2012 | 16:13
NOWADAYS it is fashionable to think of oneself first. In relationships, we are urged to make others happy by making ourselves happy. Our careers, our interests and our personal ambitions are a priority. With selfcentredness the norm, selfless ideas no longer command widespread lip service, let alone respect. We view sacrifice as a sign of weakness.
Yet sacrifice remains central to human evolution. No matter where we are or what we are doing, we have the choice of dedicating our efforts to helping others or exalting ourselves. As usual, a story might help to illustrate what I am saying about real sacrifice for the good of another in our lives.
Back in the 15th century, in a tiny village near Nuremberg, lived a family with 18 children. In order to keep food on the table, the father, a goldsmith by profession, worked almost 18 hour a day at his trade and any other paying chore he could find in the neighbourhood. Despite their seemingly hopeless conditions, two of Albrecht Durer the Elder's children had a dream: they wanted to pursue their talent for art. However, they knew their father could never afford to send either of them to Nuremberg to study at the academy.
After many long discussions at night, the two boys finally worked out a pact. They would toss a coin. The loser would go down into the nearby mines and, with his earnings, support his brother while he attended the academy. Then, when that brother who won the toss completed his studies, would support the other brother at the academy, either with sales of his artwork or if necessary, also by labouring in the mines. They tossed a coin on a Sunday morning after church. Albrecht Durer won the toss and went off to Nuremberg.
His brother Albert went down into the dangerous mines and, for the next four years, financed his brother, whose work at the academy was almost an immediate sensation. Albrecht's etchings, his woodcuts and his oils were far better than those of most of his professors and by the time he graduated he was beginning to earn considerable fees for his commissioned works. When the young artist returned to his village, the Durer family held a festive dinner on their lawn to celebrate Albrecht's triumphant homecoming.
After a long and memorable meal, punctuated with music and laughter, Albrecht rose from his honoured position at the head of the table to drink a toast to his beloved brother for the years of sacrifice that had enabled Albrecht to fulfil his ambition. His closing words were: 'And now, Albert, blessed brother of mine, it is your turn. Now you can go to Nuremberg to pursue your dream, and I will take care of you'
All heads turned in eager expectation to the far end of the table where Albert sat, tears streaming down his face, shaking his lowered head from side to side. 'No, noâ?¦. no,' he sobbed. Finally, Albert rose and wiped the tears from his cheeks. He glanced down the long table at the faces he loved. Holding his hands close to his right cheek, he said softly, 'No, brother, I cannot go to Nuremberg. It is too late for me. Look what four years in the mines have done to my hands! The bones in every finger have been smashed at least once, and lately I have been suffering from arthritis so badly in my right hand that I cannot even hold a glass to return your toast, much less make delicate lines on parchment or canvas with a pen or a brush. No, brotherâ?¦. For me, it is too late.'
More than 450 years have passed. By now, Albrecht Durer's hundreds of masterful portraits, pen and silver point sketches, water-colours, charcoals, woodcuts and copper engravings hang in every great museum in the world.
Of course, most of us are only familiar with one of Albreht Durer's works. Indeed many of us will have a reproduction of it hanging in our homes or offices. To pay homage to Albert for all he had sacrificed, Albrecht Drurer painstakingly drew his brother's worn hands with palms together and thin fingers stretched skyward. He called his powerful drawing simply 'Hands' but it has become popularly known as 'the Praying Hands'.
We each can lend a helping hand. It always cost us. But it's an extraordinary investment in the future beyond our imagining. Lend a helping hand.
My Though for the Week is: Lending a helping hand brings fruitfulness beyond our imagining.