The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 26, 2023 - 4:35:31

Receiving charity is greater than self-sufficiency

Katie van Schaijik, Sep 21, 2015

When Hitler invaded Austria, Dietrich von Hildebrand and his wife had to flee for their lives. For months they lived in Switzerland as refugees, relying for food and shelter on the generosity of the Swiss Catholics who took them in. When a friend later commented that that must have been a difficult time, considering that he had been born and raised in luxury, von Hildebrand responded that he wouldn't trade the beautiful experience of being on the receiving end of Christian charity for any amount of material security.

I had a similar experience today, albeit on a much more modest scale. After Benedict got off to school, Jules and I set out together for a 16-mile bike ride. It's a lovely time of year, and I was looking forward to the exercise. But, having slept very badly two nights running, on a big hill six miles in, I pushed too hard and fell apart. 

I got off my bike and lay in the grass, trying to catch my breath and recover the energy to go on. Jules didn't judge me. He didn't tell me I was being ridiculous. He didn't get annoyed and pressure me to show a little more gumption and willpower. He just waited patiently till I felt ready to get back in the saddle. I told him I might not be able to make it. He said, "Don't worry, I'll push you on the hills." 

The Dutch, who are practically born on bicycles, have this great trick of riding close beside a weaker rider with a hand on her back, propelling her forward by their strength. (I wish I had a picture to show what I mean.) For the rest of the ride, that's what Jules did. Whenever we came to a hill, he drew up beside me and put his hand on my back, boosting my feeble pedaling and making it easy for me to keep going.

During one longish stretch like that, side-by-side, linked by his strong arm, it occurred to me that this was a perfect image of married love, and of love in general.

It was frustrating to be so weak that I couldn't manage 16 miles by myself, but I will always cherish today's ride as one of my very favorites—much more beautiful and rewarding than the longest one I've ever done on my own strength.