What I ultimately took from the Bible, besides a better developed love of story, was the value of a lifelong struggle to be the right person and do the right thing, and a sense that I owed something to others.
In particular, I was struck by the story of Cain, when God is asking him where his slain brother Abel is. Cain famously retorts, Am I my brother’s keeper?
Yes, I realized. (Even at twelve years old.)
Yes, we are supposed to look out for those around us. And it’s not enough to avoid slaying them, we are supposed to love them as far as we can.
It doesn’t mean you have to be a sucker, but I believe we are meant to look for the good in people, to try to understand their background and perspectives, and to draw out everyone’s best side when we can.
I have a lot of great interactions this way, with people I would never have expected to be able to offer me anything.
To me, caritas also means that you should keep your eyes open for the things you can do, large or small, to have a positive impact on the life of someone else. A willing ear and a helpful hint when a colleague needs to vent. Passing down things from high shelves, for the shorter lady who can’t reach, without making her ask you. Holding doors for people, even if they clearly know how to work a door for themselves. Making playful faces at babies in a line up. Returning stray dogs. Buying a sausage roll for a homeless guy.
When you see some small courtesy or gift that is in your grasp, you are supposed to take the trouble. And if someone offers you a favor or shows you consideration, take a half second to make eye contact and thank them sincerely with a smile.
I’ve noticed it feels great. And to me, it also feels like… You’re supposed to.