Holiday season brings out our best

Published 12:23 pm Wednesday, December 26, 2012

By JOHN W. STEWART III / Guest Columnist

Like many of you, I was moved recently by the image on television news of a young police officer in New York City kneeling before a homeless man. The officer had purchased with his own money a pair of warm boots after he had seen the man, cold and vulnerable, lying on the sidewalk. A passerby caught this compassionate gesture as the officer gently slid the boots onto the man’s feet.

The picture went “viral” on the Internet, a testament to the officer’s compassion and the spirit of the holiday season, but also, I believe, to a desire for each of us to see our own humanity affirmed — to know that there is still much good in the world. If that passerby had not recognized or appreciated the moment, the officer’s kind gesture would not have “gone global” but would have been no less benevolent, no less beautiful.

During this holiday season, the image of that young officer makes me think about those denizens of our own community who each day live outside their own pleasures, and who live their professional and personal lives with servants’ hearts. It makes me think about teachers, counselors, law-enforcement officers, firefighters, healthcare practitioners, social workers, pastors, researchers and a multitude of others who give of themselves not only at this special time, but also throughout the year.

Charles Dickens closes his holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol,” with Tiny Tim’s iconic line, “God bless us, every one!” This is a powerful invocation befitting of the Christmas season during which the novel is set. I believe it is also emblematic of Dickensian appreciation for community. That is, the novelist’s call for each of us to understand that we are all in this, making the best of our community, together — and to fathom the roles we each can play in this enterprise.

We are proud at the University of Montevallo to play a key part in a noble mission — the transformation and improvement of lives in our community. And we are immensely grateful to those individuals who support and encourage us in our mission. This is an appropriate season for all of us to admire that young New York City officer, for us to be moved by the image of him genuflected before a person of such profound need.

I am deeply grateful to work with colleagues here at the University, and to live among neighbors here in Shelby County, who are no less benevolent and whose lives are no less meaningful than that heroic young officer.

John W. Stewart III is president of the University of Montevallo.