There was once a radical, free-thinking mystic who lived hundreds of years ago in Italy. He was born from wealth, was good-looking, popular and athletic. But one day, for the sake of adventure, he joined the army. He was soon caught by enemy forces and held captive for over a year. It is said that in this time, the young soldier gradually came to the conclusion that, if he could survive without money, he could also live a life without violence and hatred.
When finally freed, he became famous for being incredibly forgiving of his captors; saying that they were only doing their job (even if that job meant that they tortured him on a regular basis and brought him to near-starvation). His views on kindness spread to every aspect of his life. He gave away everything he had to the poor and turned his back on his inheritance. It was a considerable sum.
People started to follow this strange wanderer as he travelled through the villages and towns, spreading his message of courageous kindness and non-judgement; wearing only a tattered robe. What they found most astounding was that this young man was completely wild and almost entirely fearless. You see, he spent weeks at a time in the forest; in the company of wild boars, wolves and snakes who – instead of following their natural instincts to attack and eat him – actually grew placid in his presence.
One day, the quietly powerful anarchist entered a village. He saw immediately that the villagers lived in a state of fear and panic. When he asked one of the villagers why this was so, she wept and explained that a giant wolf had been terrorizing the village-folk for years; attacking children in their sleep and farmers as they plowed the fields. With great courage, the young activist made his way deep into the forest to find the wolf. When they finally faced each other, the wolf was startled by the young man’s lack of fear; growing silent in his presence.
By spending just a few quiet moments with the wolf, the young man could see him as he had seen his captors all those years ago: just doing what he thought he needed to do to survive. And in that moment, he felt deep compassion for the wolf. The kindness emanating from the man was so powerful that the wolf had no choice but to lay down at his feet.
‘Brother Wolf’ said the man, ‘You are not evil. You have done what you needed to do to survive. Now it is time to make peace between you and the people’.
The wolf dutifully followed this strange and utterly beguiling man into the village, for the first time, in daylight. The villagers were duly stunned and it took a while for them to be calmed.
‘This wolf only did what he thought was necessary’, said the charismatic wild man. He explained that from now on, the villagers would feed the wolf and that the town dogs should no longer set themselves onto him. Instead, they would be his friends as, for many years, the wolf had no-one.
St Francis of Assisi was way head of his time. His kindness was so magnetic that, in his short life, he attracted hundreds of people to his cause of compassion. It is said that in his final moments; as he lay dying, he thanked his donkey for being such a selfless part of his mission on the planet. The donkey lay down beside him and wept.
‘You start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible’
‘Not to hurt our animal brethren is our first duty to them, but this is not enough. We have a higher mission – to be of service to them whenever they require it’
St Francis of Assisi