FILLING THE OCEAN WITH INK

A favorite hymn from my youth has significant meaning. The words are as follows:

Could we with ink the ocean fill And were the skies of parchment made, Were every stalk on earth a quill And every man a scribe by trade, To write the love of God above would drain the Ocean dry Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.* The words express an immense thought, and the story behind their creation is most poignant. During the 19th century a man was placed in an insane asylum. He was there for many years living out his days in a small cell. Upon his death the attendants set about to clean his room. On the wall those beautiful words were scripted in pencil. The immensity of that thought came from the mind of a man who had been judged mentally deficient. He had been judged to be incapable of living with society. He had been judged to be unproductive and unable to benefit his peers. That mind created the words which were later set to music and express a vastness that we all too often forget, a vastness that we seem to fail to grasp in our everyday lives. As a child I observed a person whom I believed also had nothing to offer those around him. In our neighborhood lived a man who had physical deformities. His face was contorted and I can recall how he talked with slurred speech. The other children and I would hide behind trees when we saw him coming. We would giggle and sometimes taunt him. It seemed to us that he ignored our action as he made his way up the street. My grandfather would often be seated in the front yard reading and he invariably would get up and go out to the main sidewalk to visit with this man. Grandpa would speak of everyday matters and with the same gentleness which he showed to everyone in his life. I was puzzled by this, because I could not understand why he would take any time with this man. I could barely understand anything the man said and he didn't seem to me, quite honestly, worth the time to talk to. But my grandfather understood more than I did. He was teaching me something, by example; something which I did not understand nor did I learn until many years later. More than a decade passed. During the summer months while in college I was at the post office mailing a letter. The postmaster saw me and called me over to the window. He asked me if I recalled the man I have written about above; I said I did. He said that the man had recently died and that he had painted pictures for many years. The pictures were quite beautiful and he wanted me to see them. Among the possessions also were oil painted, brushes, and many books on

drawing and painting. He thought that I would be able to use these and said I could have them if I would stop by his home that evening. Being an art student with a great deal of expense involved in art supplies, I readily agreed to pick up this gift. I did not expect to see anything "great" in the paintings from this man. I was mistaken. His paintings were lovely and filled with peace. I was surprised and somewhat confused. How could this deformed person, unable to express himself well in his speech, create such serene paintings? I loaded all of the art supplies and the dozens of books in my car. They were all carried to my room at home. The books were stored in a closet, nothing of particular use to a college student. Upon graduation from college a year later, I was hired to teach art and English in El Dorado Springs. I decided to go through the books and manuals to see if any of them would be of benefit to my art students. As I turned the pages I found many of his sketches and studies carefully and most accurately copied from the texts. His eye was excellent. I was impressed with what I found. Turning a page I discovered a folded sheet of writing tablet paper. Unfolding the page I found the following prayer printed in childlike letters: Dear God, Forgive the children. They laugh at me. I do not mind. I love the little children. Help them to know how much I love them. Amen. I cried. I was one of the children. After all the years I understood what my grandfather had been trying to teach by his example of kindness and gentleness toward this man. He had been teaching that love was for all, not just for those to whom we choose to extend it. If we drew ink from the ocean of love then we would never be able to use it all. The man in the asylum, the deformed man of my youth, the challenged persons walking among us today, all have something to give to we who are willing to receive their great gifts.
 

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