Years ago, looking for a perfect Mother's Day present for my wife, I had scribbled down the name of a painting I knew she liked and wandered into the Farnsworth Art Museum to look for it. I was out of my element in the Farnsworth, but walked into the gift shop, asking the clerk behind the counter where I might find the Homer Winslow print, "Three Boys on a Shore." She looked at me and began leading me over to the print, gently letting me know a little more about Winslow Homer. Mixing up a famous artist's name like Winslow Homer (perhaps because I was a "Simpsons" watcher, not a museum-goer, and I have in-laws whose last name is Winslow) is an embarrassing gaff when you're in a busy gift shop, but the manner in which the error is pointed out is important and "the rest of the story."

The woman at the Farnsworth was very careful not to embarrass me in front of other patrons, and her grace did not go unnoticed by me. It was a lesson that continues with me 25 years later; she did not need to let me or anyone else know that she was smarter or superior. Instead, she protected my ignorance with a gentle hand, guiding me to the print with grace. She didn't smile at me with that superior attitude, or correct me with a "You must mean Winslow Homer" in front of others with that "Are you stupid or something?" smirk.

In the kindest and most gentle manner, she steered me to the print and provided me with the information I needed to not embarrass myself further, or again in the future (I would need to find other ways to show my lack of couth). It showed me, with action and not words, that we must strive to help our fellow men and women, pick them up rather than show them up when they stumble.

***

Last Saturday, the Midcoast Community Chorus performed at the Strom Auditorium in Camden; a program they called "A Time in Song."

It was extraordinary and fun: 170-plus local performers, led by Artistic Director Steve Weston, in a benefit concert for One Community Many Voices.

What makes this a writable event is not just the wholehearted goodness of watching our neighbors perform songs from the last 10 centuries, celebrating their 10th anniversary as an ensemble, but learning a little about the background of this incredible organization.

This is a group that was founded on and continues to honor the principle of inclusion. To be part of this group, you don't have to have any special talent; you just have to show up and share the simple fact that we all have a voice, and you want to be part of something bigger than yourself.

That's it. If you can follow directions, open your mouth when told and close it when your turn is over, you're in.

They say that music feeds the soul, and this chorus was the action example.

The most symbolic part of the evening might have been when the conductor involved the audience in a piece about the rain forest. He gave the audience three simple directions; rub your hands when I tell you, then snap your fingers, and we'll end with gentle slapping of your hands on your knees. Moving his hands like a wave at a baseball game, he directed different parts of the audience to join in with one of those sounds, leading to a crescendo and a pitter-patter that resonated throughout the hall, with the 1,000 community members providing the "music."

It showed what small movements, done by the community, could do to turn simple gestures into a powerful movement that reached into the depths of your soul.

One person, rubbing their hands, snapping their fingers and slapping their legs doesn't work; it takes a community to raise a rainstorm.

***

A recent ruling by the Supreme Court sided with the Christian baker who refused to create a custom wedding cake for a gay couple, basing it on his religious beliefs. The decision was 7 to 2 supporting the baker's rights under the First Amendment, with the dissenting view that this was discrimination based on sexual orientation.

This case was interesting in the fact that both sides have rational arguments. While discrimination is just plain wrong, one should have the right to do work, or not do work, for anyone, as they please.

I have accepted ads from groups that I strongly oppose, but refused ads on the grounds they were too graphic. A couple of times I have walked away from clients I simply didn't like; it was and should be my right to do so. I was once cited for an antitrust violation (which was dropped) because my biggest client was a competitor and I didn't feel I could serve them both. The key came down to "was there another alternative" for the business to get the services offered. If yes, the right to say no was intact. If no, then it would have been ordered that I help them.

In the case of the wedding cake, the baker asserted that he had no trouble selling any of his baked goods to anyone coming into his store, but to order him to create a custom cake violated his right of refusal; there were plenty of bakers in Colorado who would provide the service.

While I don't agree with the baker's decision, I do see that he has a right to work for whom he wants, just like I did. But we miss the point; the challenge is that his decision is based on religious grounds that are narrow and self-serving. More importantly, they are non-inclusive; isn't love what needs to govern who we marry and want to spend the rest of our lives together with?

In the name of religion, we should love our neighbors. So why take scripture that suits you, and is hateful and not inclusive, and use it as guidelines to discriminate? How does that move the world forward?

"There is always something to do. There are hungry people to feed, naked people to clothe, sick people to comfort and make well. And while i don't expect you to save the world, I do think it's not asking too much for you to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call friend, engage those among you who are visionary, and remove from your life those who offer you depression, despair, and disrespect."

—Nikki Giovanni, poet and professor (b. 1943)