Faults of character need a physician as truly as any bodily ailment does. What are such faults but moral diseases? They are contagious; they rage as epidemics; we catch the fever from each other. Yet, too seldom do we make any effort to cure the evil. In physical complaints, we call in the doctor, exist on meager diet, and swallow quantities of different medicines. Our anxious friends make daily enquiries, and our dearest ones grow haggard with apprehension. The sick room is a sacred place, the center of many tearful prayers and timid hopes. Doctors and nurses fight for the invalid's life, while his relatives go about in frightened silence, and every person in the house is moved with a divine sympathy. But, sad as bodily weakness may be, there is a sickness of the soul that is worse. God said, "Let us make man in our own image." This applies, surely, to that part of our being which is not material, for God is Spirit. We are still in the making, and are ourselves responsible for much of the work, for our wills are free to help or hinder. We are meant to be healthy in character as well as in body; strong for good; of robust integrity; sound and right-thinking. Yet how many of us are even now suffering misery from some moral indisposition! In the case of the body, pain warns us when all is not right, and we accept the intimation, and take steps to restore the balance of health. We submit cheerfully to the surgeon's knife if by so doing we may add a few years to our natural life. Physical pain is a symbol of moral pain, and if we would but pursue the analogy, life would be better understood, for we should then see that the torture of dissatisfaction with circumstances indicates the presence of moral disease. In this connection all diseases are internal. Environment is, after all, nothing but a mirror, and just as "beauty is in the eye of the beholder," so imperfection is in the heart of the person who grumbles at it.
One day last May I was walking in the country with a fellow-worker; we were both criticizing the methods of other people, their deceitful and time-serving ways. We deplored having to live with them, and said how well everything would go if this person and that person would leave the place. We were all working for one employer, and were dissatisfied with him, and with everybody else; we longed for reform and peace. Through the miles of that country walk we saw not the green springing loveliness that lined the sunny lanes. Flowers bloomed and birds sang unheeded, for our eyes and ears were sealed. We could not receive the inspiration offered by the sky depths and the river running to the sea. Our moral nerves were palsied by the venom we had welcomed into our systems.
The next day I walked out alone, turning off from the lane into a small copse. I wished that human beings could live as harmoniously together as the wild things in the wood, and began again to count over the faults of other people. I was getting more and more heated and impatient, and the beautiful sights and sounds, the perfume and comfort of the sweet air were all lost; for there, in the midst of a most fair and holy world, I walked in a noisome prison of my own making. I stumbled on, not heeding how I went, and I know now that there exhaled from my thoughts a black and horrible vapor, malignant and pestiferous, that floated for a while in the air behind me, and must have tainted any person who might, unhappily, have chanced to pass that way.
A little twig dropped on my hand and I awoke! And there was something before me that has made a difference to all my life. It was a wild apple tree, and the sheer beauty of its flowers against the warm blue sky seemed to create a kind of atmospheric music that l shall always hear when I am in tune myself. A music born out of ether by beauty, and that will never cease to be.
It was only a little, slender tree, not more than ten feet high; and, wonder of wonders, where the first fork branched there was set a tiny earth-lined nest, holding four scraps of the sky in its brown cup. Just above the tree was an anxious fluttering of wings that proclaimed the spotted ovals to be the eggs of a thrush; but I know there was some of God's sky in them. Flushed snow of blossom; dome of the luminous heavens; braced strength of youthful branches; bird's nest of perfect form; the warm, smooth, waiting eggs, and brooding over all a spirit of blissful maternity. The mother bird, the tree caressing her nest like another mother, the great Nature Mother nourishing the young tree, and God above all producing nature for us, His children. All these things melted my heart, and became the antidote to the poison in me.
I was spared the surgeon's steel, and even though tendency to disease may still exist, the medicine which relieves is freely offered, and I would tell the glad news to others who suffer. Go out into the fields and woods. Open yourself to the universal Love—that Love which expresses itself in beauty; beauty of nature, and beauty of character. Worry and unhappiness are things of shame; avoid them. Accept all that comes in a spirit of joy. Know that what appears like injustice, inconsideration, selfishness and misgovernment in others has no existence apart from yourself; because the fact of your feeling such things proves that they are literally a part of your own character. We only see in others what lives within ourselves; it is our own eye that offends us. "If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out."
—I Esdras IV. 38.