A Passing Acquaintance

A Passing Acquaintance

Edgar Guest (1881-1951), who was popular in the first half of the 20th century and became known as the People’s Poet, was born in Birmingham, England. His family shifted to the US when he was ten years old, and he became a naturalized citizen in 1902. For forty years, Guest was widely read throughout North America, and his sentimental, optimistic poems. Amongst his oft ­quoted poems is the one entitled “Don’t Quit”.

Guest tells a wonderfully warm story of one of his neighbours, Jim Potter, the town druggist – a casual acquaintance with whom he exchanged greetings.

When Guest’s first-born child died, he was overcome with grief. Several days later Guest went to the drugstore and Jim Potter motioned for him to come behind the counter. “Eddie,” he said, “I really can’t express to you the great sympathy that I have for you at this time. All I can say is that I am terribly sorry, and if you need me to do anything, you can count on me.”

Many years later Edgar Guest wrote of that encounter: “Just a person across the way – a passing acquaintance. Jim Potter may have long since forgotten that moment when he extended his hand to me in sympathy, but I shall never forget it – never in all my life. To me it stands out like the silhouette of a lonely tree against a crimson sunset.”

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The echo of sympathy and compassion keeps resounding as explained by Edgar Guest. Jim Potter, he says, may have long since forgotten that moment when he extended his hand to me in sympathy, but I shall never forget it – never in all my life. As Milan Kundera put it, “there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.” Without such genuine sympathy and compassion humanity can not survive.

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