I and Thou

I gave my love a golden feather.

I gave my love a heart of stone.

When you find a golden feather,

It means you’ll never lose your way back home.

—(Robbie Robertson & The Red Road Ensemble, fantastic album containing such lyrics as “You don’t stand a chance against my prayers” and a powerful reading of Chief Joseph’s rejection of government intervention)

“Any gift, however small, improves the condition of humanity. You cannot see this, of course, but it is true because it is an aggregate. It is like a scale. If evil and oppression are weighing down the scale completely on one side, you do not have something as great as that to counteract it, to balance the scale, to offset the overwhelming dominance of evil and circumstance, of ignorance, of oppression, of poverty and so forth. When you add to the other part of the scale something small, it seems to have no effect. But when others add something small, sooner or later, in time, the scale is balanced, and beyond this it moves in favor of what is true and natural for human beings, which is to be united with others, which is to be creative, which is to be in service to their families and cultures in the world, to preserve the world, to take care of people, to be inspired and to have the glow of an inner life within themselves.“—The New Message for the Impoverished and Oppressed

I remember a moment when I was so struck by a personal act of kindness that I could only think, John Donne was right!


Beauty is truth, truth beauty,— that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

It came soon after I had to ask a stranger, do I sound crazy to you? and the response was, no, not crazy: concerned.

And then the breathtaking kindness, which later I saw as a simple demonstration of their way of being, an example of how small acts of kindness (especially as a pervasive and continual practice) can tip the scales against unthinking cruelty.

Their philosophy of relationships, developed by collaboration between two men of different races, was a practical application of the Martin Buber’s “philosophy of dialogue, a religious existentialism centered on the distinction between the I-Thou relationship and the I-It relationship.”

Seeing this distinction between the I-Thou relationship and the I-It relationship was like finding a golden feather, a pointer to the way back Home. There are way-showers in our lives, whose presence in our lives can coincide with a sense of jarring realities (such as the shocking realization all others are not Its but potentially Thous).

You are going against your social conditioning. You are going against the expectations of others. Perhaps you will have to break some obligations and associations, and you will feel afraid and unsure. And perhaps you will wonder if you are going mad, but you are not going mad. You are just responding to a greater calling. But this sets in train a greater momentum and a deeper sense of commitment, but to things unseen and unrecognized. And that is why it is mysterious and difficult to explain, and why you cannot explain it to your friends and family.–The Awakening

When you have been bestowed with a golden feather, it comes to signify the golden thread, the truth that runs like an electric current through all things but is not always felt. A sign, or a hint that a map does exist, a reliable way to get past the problems in human nature that are a challenge even when equipped by the very best philosophies on Earth.