Too often we assume our life experience is the norm and therefore lose our appreciation for what our neighbors must live with. In truth, however, the trials we face are not others’ trials; ours are of a different nature, they may be harder or easier, or longer in duration or shorter than our neighbor’s challenges. To think our experience defines normal is a dangerous egotism that blocks our instincts for sympathy and empathy, and the God given call to compassion.
“The Owl,” is a poem by Edward Thomas that tells of the end of a long, cold and grueling day of hiking for the poet. Feeling the deprivations of his hike, he finds refuge in an inn offering “food, fire, and rest.” Then as he retires, safe and satisfied, when the “night was quite barred out,” he hears the melancholy cry of an owl in the darkness. In that plaintive cry the owl tells him “plain what I escaped / And others could not, that night”. He is reminded that his good fortune is not shared by everyone on that frigid night: “the bird’s voice / Speaking for all who lay under the stars, / Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.”