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Retaining the Good

By Simon Palmore ’19

God, God, … my God.
Why did you dump me miles from nowhere? Doubled up with pain, I call to God all the day long.
No answer. Nothing. I keep at it all night tossing and turning.
And you! Are you indifferent, above it all, leaning back on the cushions of Israel’s praise?
We know you were there for our parents: they cried for your help and you gave it; they trusted and lived a good life.

Psalm 22:1-5 (from The Message, a translation of the Bible in contemporary language)



Dear Reverend Hundley and the Vestry,

Thank you for allowing me to speak today.

Sincerely,

Simon



Dear God,

Why is the world like this? Why do doors lock at inconvenient times and locations? Why do people leave trash on the ground instead of throwing it away? Why do the printers stop working right when I need to print out my homily?

Ok, but on a more serious note, why is the world like this? Terror attacks happen in Sri Lanka, killing hundreds of innocent worshippers and tourists, because your world is brutal. People hide who they are from those around them, because your world is unaccepting. Floods, earthquakes, and fires destroy lives and livelihoods, because your world is arbitrary. So why did you make a world like this? You’re supposed to be omnipotent, all-powerful. So then you purposefully made a hostile world for us to live in? But if we ignore all the times in the Bible when you were slightly wrathful, you tend to have a pretty good reputation.

You’re supposed to be benevolent. So either you aren’t actually all good, or you aren’t actually all powerful. Thoughts?

Sincerely,

Simon



Dear Simon,

Read the Bible.

Yours truly,

God



Dear God,

Unhelpful. I own a Bible. I took Bible. I still have questions.

Sincerely,

Simon



Dear Simon,

You act like the world I created is a terrible place. Like there’s nothing good. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least six or seven good things in the world. I’m not going to list them, but I’m sure you can think of some too.

Yours truly,

God



Dear God,

You are right. I know that some good exists, but that’s not really my question. I didn’t say the world is all bad. Really, my question is, “Why isn’t the world all good? Why is there anything bad?” It’s a little tough to appreciate a beautiful mountain you created when you also created mosquitoes and wasps. Thanks for your prompt response.

Sincerely,

Simon



Dear Simon,

Sorry if my last note was a little brusk. I was having a bad day. Here’s a more complete answer. In truth, the good arises from the bad. When disaster strikes, you can see my spirit in those who pick up the pieces. And for every human that is unkind or insensitive, there are many whose intentions are pure. See, the good in the world comes from people. People sing beautiful songs. People love each other. Your beautiful mountain wouldn’t be beautiful unless a person noticed its beauty.

So yes, bad things do happen. But much of the good comes from the bad. And often, the good takes the form of people. People, for the most part, are good.

So look around. Those around you are signs of good in the world. They support you. They appreciate you. They make you feel comfortable in your own skin. So if you ever doubt that world I made, just look around.

Yours truly,

God



Dear St. Albans,

Your primary mission is to teach us to do good in the world. To serve others. To enrich our communities with knowledge and wisdom. To create beautiful things that make life better. The ability to do good is given to all of us. Every child grows up with this ability, this potential. In fact, some of the strongest evidence of good is in the young. Lower Schoolers playing soccer, carefree, on the Little Field. A knife dropped from a stack of plates, and then picked up by someone else. A school community, gathered together in a chapel.

But the world has a tendency to bruise. Each day, each year brings more bruises: terrible news stories, the death of a relative, unfairness, injustice. As we take these blows, we build up walls. We hinder our own vulnerability as we lose our innocence. The walls we put up to defend ourselves from the world also shut us away from it. At a certain point, we might even lose our appreciation for “good,” or begin to believe it doesn’t exist at all.

That is why we must make a conscious effort to retain the good. We must treat others as we want to be treated. Take the hard right over the easy wrong. Live peacefully, loving and serving the Lord and our neighbor. Many of these sayings come up almost daily at St. Albans. They can even be repetitive when you’ve spent nine years here like I have. But, St. Albans, the repetition suggests something about you. It suggests that this mission, retaining the good, is critical to this institution. It suggests that when we leave you, we are thoroughly equipped to do good in the world. And that is a truly high achievement.

St. Albans, I have come to feel, and I’m sure my classmates will agree, that my days are numbered here. We will blink and it will be over and we will go our separate ways. But the way you have taught us to serve our neighbor, to change the world for the better, will remain with us wherever we go.

So friends, look around. What you’ll see is an army of individuals equipped by their school and each other to do good in the world. Yes, the world is harsh, but we will soften it for others. The world is unaccepting, but we will open its eyes. The world is arbitrary, but we will always remain constant. For while God may seem “indifferent,” as the reading says, or even malevolent, we are proof that the universe is not indifferent or malevolent at all. Rather, the psalmist urges us not to stand by and watch, question, or judge, but to actively be agents of goodness for all of creation. As we go forth into the world, we will fulfill our greatest purpose, to be agents of good. For inspiration, read the Bible or Shakespeare. Pray, meditate, listen to music. But most of all, look around. You will see proof every day of unwavering, unquestionable good.

Sincerely,

Simon
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Located in Washington D.C.,  St. Albans School is a private, all boys day and boarding school. For more than a century, St. Albans has offered a distinctive educational experience for young men in grades 4 through 12. While our students reach exceptional academic goals and exhibit first-rate athletic and artistic achievements, as an Episcopal school we place equal emphasis upon moral and spiritual education.