Love is the core character trait for the month of January. As a character trait, love is very similar to charity. It is what allows man to reach beyond selfishness, and even beyond justice. It enables compassion and self-sacrifice.
What is Love?
Love goes beyond justice; it gives more than fairness requires. Love is willingness to sacrifice for the sake of another.
Where does the word come from?
Word etymology: Old English lufian “to feel love for, cherish, show love to; delight in, approve,” from Proto-Germanic lubojan (source also of Old High German lubon, German lieben) a verb from the root of love (n.n). Wakendsense of “like” attested by c. 1200. Intransitive sense “be in love, have a passionate attachment” is from mid-13th century.
Love in Action: Joseph Dutton
Why would a healthy 43 year-old man decide to give up his life to dedicate himself to helping those with leprosy? All it took was reading an account of Joseph Damien’s work with the leprosy colony on the Hawaiian island of Molokai to convince Joseph Dutton to disregard all danger to himself and sail to Molokai.
This Civil War veteran had served honorably in the Quartermaster Corp of the 13th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment. After the war, he volunteered to locate the dead left on the battlefields and bring them to a burial site. While successful in various jobs over the next 20 years, he was haunted by a failed marriage and alcoholism.
Giving up alcohol in 1876, he was still searching for something to which he could dedicate his life. It wasn’t until 1886 that he read about Damien’s efforts and found his purpose.
Damien came from Belgium in 1873 to care for victims of Hansen’s disease (formerly known as leprosy). Since 1866 the government of Hawaii had quarantined all people with leprosy to the island of Molokai. They were sent there to die. Damien dedicated his life to transforming the island from a place to die, to a place to live. Beyond caring for the sick, dressing sores, burying the dead, building houses, constructing a water system and organizing farms, Damien established schools and helped build a community.
However about ten years after his arrival, he discovered he had contracted leprosy. Dutton’s arrival two years later was opportunely timed to provide Damien with support as he began to decline. When Damien died three years later, Dutton continued his work of affirming the dignity of those living on the island. Refusing pay, he coached baseball, improved living conditions, dressed sores, planted crops and tirelessly worked to make a difference.
On Molokai, he found the peace he was seeking. Shortly before his death he said, “Why, I have a vacation all the time, every blessed moment of these blessed years – in doing what I like–what I think my soul needs–the work I like to do. Anything else would be slavery.”
Only once in his 44 years on Molokai did he consider leaving. When World War I broke out in Europe, the 74 year old re-enlisted. His application was rejected, and he happily continued his work. Through his extensive correspondence with several hundred individuals, Dutton continued to draw international attention to the plight of those living wit
h leprosy. Among some of those he exchanged letters with were presidents Warren G. Harding and Theodore Roosevelt.
After nearly half a century working among the lepers on Molokai, Dutton passed away in 1931. His selfless dedication to serving the leper community has inspired others to go beyond justice and commit themselves to serving others. Reporting his death, one magazine wrote of him, “Virtue is never so attractive as when we see it in action.”
Quotes From Joseph Dutton
“Today, even, I cannot think of any better mission that I might have performed. I sought a service of self-sacrifice which would benefit my fellow men. I found it at Molokai.” – Joseph Dutton
“Am wishing to be really so good and useful as you think, having done, and am doing my bit to help the lepers, and to keep things in order. But the service has done me good; it is fully an offset. In fact my main feeling is one of intense gratitude toward Almighty God for giving this opportunity–in health and strength–to enjoy the life and to feel so greatly benefited.” – Joseph Dutton’s letter in reply to President Harding
“As for leaving Molokai, the thought never enters my head. My life work is here on this little peninsula, and among these people, whom I have come to love. The rest of the world has absolutely no attraction for me.” – Joseph Dutton
“I wanted to serve some useful purpose during the rest of my life without any hope of monetary or other reward.” – Joseph Dutton
“Our feelings should be chiefly of gratitude, and I think this sentiment fills us all who are in the work; and that it binds us not only to the work, but to each other, that everything may go on in unity, peace and concord, under the will of God.” – Joseph Dutton
- How did Joseph Dutton exemplify love? In what kinds of situations do people demonstrate love or charity?
- Was Dutton happy when he dedicated himself to serving others?
- Did Dutton demonstrate other character traits? How are the other character traits connected to love?
- Dutton made a big change in his life, what are small changes you can make to show love?
- How did Dutton make a difference in the lives of the people on Molokai? How did his service make a difference in his own life?