It seemed as if a total dissolution of Nature had taken place. I pictured the scene at the height of its most dreadful fury: the roaring of the sea and wind—fiery meteors flying about in the air—the prodigious glare of almost perpetual lightning—the crash of the falling houses—and the ear-piercing shrieks of the distressed. What horror and destruction–the effect of Nature’s violent outburst profoundly tragic!

A great many buildings throughout were levelled to the ground, the rest very much shattered—several persons killed and untold numbers utterly ruined—whole families running about the streets searching in vain for a place of shelter—the sick exposed to the keenness of water and air—without a bed to lie upon—or dry clothes to their bodies. In a word, Misery in all its most piteous shapes spread over the whole face of the country.

We were a small group dispatched from our parish, sent to provide disaster relief: tents, hot food and clean drinking water and dry clothes. Queues materialised even as we set up shop, lines of children and families and men and women, herded by enthusiastic youth assuming the role of traffic controllers. The people’s dishevelled appearance belied their resilient nature, for it seemed even in crisis and disaster they had held on to their dignity, maintaining extraordinary composure. Most waited without complaint, tending to the children and helping those who tended to them, even if they were injured or faint from hunger.  Of course, there were persons who resented the long lines, some who basely demanded to be served before the rest, yet incredibly, the crowd moved to let them pass. I was amazed at how even in the lowliest of situations, graciousness prevailed.

For charity confounds the individualist. Someone who only looks out for himself, cannot comprehend aiding another person without receiving recompense or reward. Charity is only understood by people who can perceive the bigger picture, by men and women of strongest character who bestow compassion and kindness unceasing. They know that to clothe the naked and to feed the starving, even if they had to give the shirt off their back or their daily bread–to help those who cannot help themselves, is to be moral and just. The greater the need, the more will be given, even to a fault. Calamity might tear apart their homes, but charity and goodwill are sufficient to repair what was lost, even uniting people in one heart and mind.

We left after ten days, having exhausted our stores and restored a semblance of order. What cynicism I had about the inherent selfishness of humanity had been erased. I understood charity. To me, charity means collectivism over individualism, symbiosis over parasitism. Charity means help, freely given, no matter its quantity or recipient. To give charity is to be human.

This essay was originally written for the question: What do you understand by charity? Write about your involvement in a charity project that changed your outlook on life.

P.S Hamilton is a prolific writer.