Posts Tagged ‘compassion’

We were recently in the North End of Boston. Very historical. Beautiful place. Fabulous weather. Good eats.

Passed by Paul Revere’s house on the way to a restaurant. About a block up, near a corner curb, there’s a bit of a crowd. Couple of older gents and ladies looking at the ground.

It just takes one, right?

A person looks up and we all look up because we are curious beings. A person looks down and we all look down because we are curious beings.

It’s a touristy area. Heavy foot traffic. At this point, foot traffic slows and everyone is looking down and asking, “What’s up?”

Or really more like, “What’s down?”

There is a sewer grate.

Everyone’s first thought is, “Oh good God, did their phone fall through the grate?”

Okay, maybe it was just my first thought.

But that is our society. Right or wrong. We can’t live without those phones.

Well, it wasn’t a phone.

It was the man’s car keys.

What kind of perfect storm is that? Keys dropped right into the sewer?

Oh, boy! Everyone who heard that sort of let out a sympathy groan. Tourist or local. Was like a collective groan.

You can lose your phone and get a new one. Totally stinks but it’s not the worst.

But your car keys? Dang. How are you going to get home? And maybe the house key attached?

A perfect Sunday in Boston for them. Until it wasn’t.

This little scenario rippled up the blocks.

Nope, it wasn’t a murder. Or a crime. But it rippled just the same.

I heard suggestions, “Call the city!”

And, “Call the cops!”

The next block up, a couple of waiters having a smoke outside the restaurant were like, “City ain’t gonna help ’em. Cops ain’t gonna help ’em.”

Matter of factly.

In my head I was like, “This is soooo New England.”

A few things struck me.

Everyone that passed by the man actually felt his pain. They put themselves in his shoes at that very moment. Because they could actually imagine themselves in that very same situation. Losing their keys in the sewer.


Everyone was sort of thinking, “Oh, the poor bugger. Thank God, it’s not me but I’m still feeling really bad for him. I’d like to help.”

There’s the rub.

If we can identify with a fellow human being who lost his car keys in a sewer grate then why can’t we identify with all of the others?

Why can’t we feel the pain of others? Put ourselves in a different pair of shoes for a moment? Actually imagine ourselves in the very same situation? It would even be okay to think, “Oh, the poor thing. It’s not me but I feel really bad. I’d like to help.”

That’s compassion. That’s humanbeingism at its best. Wouldn’t it be swell to see a bit more of the best?



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I received a message yesterday from a childhood friend who had just heard about my father’s death. She was so terribly sorry for us.

This same friend lost her mom recently. Her dad died seventeen years ago. She said not a day passes that she does not think of him.

I was fully aware that most folks who came to pay their respects to my family knew exactly what we were feeling. I understood that these people who provided us comfort and solace have all suffered some loss in their own lives. Could have been losing parents, children, siblings or friends. Could have been tragic or welcomed.

It’s the condition of being human in this world for a very short time. Maybe we didn’t sign up for it but we are here and those are the terms of the contract.

It reminded me of a story my husband told many years ago.

A woman’s child died and she was utterly devastated. She approached the Buddha and begged him to bring her child back to life. He said he would be glad to help her. But only if she could bring back a mustard seed from a home that had not suffered from a death.

This grief stricken mother traveled, near and far, to find a home that had not been touched by loss. After many months, knocking on every door, she returned empty handed. She never found that house.

And then she found some peace.

This recent experience of losing my father reinforced the fact that even though my personal grief can be unique it will never be unshared. This will provide me with some measure of comfort during my own quest for peace.

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Most of you know that Rory lost her friend Veronica when they were fourteen years old. Veronica had been hit by a car while crossing the street after school.

Tomorrow would have been her twenty-second birthday.  So, of course, I have been thinking about her.

What you may not have known is that the girl driving the car that hit her was also a student at the same high school.

You can imagine school letting out on a beautiful autumn day. Streams of kids walking home. Loads of cars. Moms and carpools.

It was an accident. As tragic as it was.

Rumors went wild about the young driver.

A lot of the community’s energy was focused on the victim of the accident. Okay, most. Truth be told. All.

Except that I do recall something. Annie’s soccer coach, Lisa, made dinner for another family that was also devastated by the accident. Her neighbor across the street. The family of the young driver. I remembered thinking how very compassionate it was of Lisa.

While they didn’t lose a daughter this family was also very much effected. The girl ended up transferring to another school. I also remember being in a restaurant some months later and my Rory whispered, “That’s the girl who hit Veronica.”

My heart and mind was obviously with Veronica’s family at that time.  But I often think about how we forget that so many folks are effected by tragic events. The young girl will never forget that day. That accident. I am sure the course of her life was utterly changed. As was her family’s. The whispers. Always being the girl who hit Veronica.

And that was an accident. Imagine the families of people who purposefully commit atrocities.

It is normal to open our hearts to victims. To side with the wronged or aggrieved party. It’s easier and, of course, no one wants to be seen as sympathetic to the other side.

Truly had me thinking about what real compassion might be.

I remember seeing the real life story, made into a television movie, where Sister Helen Prejean (played by Susan Sarandon) was the sole spiritual support for a rapist and killer. Whoa. Not sure I could do that. But I was in awe of her.

Recently saw a photo of Pope Francis. He was kissing a severely disfigured man on his head. Not sure I could do that either. I would like to think that I could but the reality is that I might not. It wouldn’t be easy. But I was in awe of him.

Now, granted, these last two examples are of people who are probably more compassionate than most. Whether through God’s gift or training.

There are so many people out there that would benefit from the difficult acts of compassion. Maybe all are victims. In some way. Maybe not. I hope that one day I might be truly compassionate. Not just when I am on the right side of it. And when it’s easy.

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I was reading an article brought to my attention on Facebook. It was about an overweight girl whose unflattering photo had made the cyberspace rounds. It was hurtful and her self-confidence took a huge blow. The comments were so ugly.

It got me thinking. When did we forget to think? To be compassionate? Does the anonymity of the internet make it just a tad easier to be cruel?

This is not just about pictures of a person struggling with their weight. There are folks sharing photos of everything. Naked pictures. People at their worst. Fashion sense gone wrong.

And every time that happens people feel this overwhelming desire to comment on these photos. To be incredibly mean. Under the guise of being witty. Or above it themselves.

It is about everything in which we feel we need to comment. Whether on the web or not.

A fire only continues if it is fueled. There will always be fires. We just don’t need to keep it going.

A reminder to me. For self-examination. I should ask myself, every time I open my mouth or set fingers typing, “What is my motive?”

Am I spreading joy and goodwill? Or am I being an agent of harm?

I personally would rather be an agent of goodwill. And I am going to try my very best.

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Today was the first day of school for Annie here in Kuala Lumpur. Tempus fugit!

It prompted a memory of another first day of school in Coppell, Texas. That time it was Annie’s older sister, Rory. Who is now in her last year of college.

When Rory was about to enter third grade she was so excited. We had moved within the same town to a different neighborhood. This meant that she would be attending a new elementary school. And she would be taking the bus with the other neighborhood children. A first for her.

So, on this first day of school I walked her up to the bus stop. She couldn’t wait to hop on board. Eagerly lined up at the front when it pulled up to the stop.

But, even in her excited eagerness, she noticed a little neighbor girl who was starting school for the first time ever. Kindergarten. The child was crying, scared, wouldn’t move and made no attempt to gravitate towards the line or the bus. And her mom wasn’t making any progress.

Totally unsolicited, Rory left her place in the line. The others started boarding but she went over to little Davis. She took her by the hand, gently spoke with her, and coaxed the little girl onto the bus with her. Off they went.

One of the moms came up to me after the bus departed and asked, “Was that your little girl who helped Davis?”

I said, “Yes.”

She said, “That was so amazing to watch. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

And those are the things that should make a parent proud. Like I was on that first day of school.

I wish you all a wonderful school year!

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My cousin, Elizabeth, asked that I keep the stories coming. So, in honor of my heritage, there will be an Irish theme until St. Patrick’s Day.

I was in New York City some years ago for the wedding of my husband’s co-worker. It was a fabulous weekend.

The wedding Mass was great. With a bagpiper on the front steps of the church as a grand finale.

The church was in the city but the reception was scheduled a few hours later on Long Island. My husband hired the driver that he had used previously on business trips to the city. He said, “You’ll love him. He looks like your brother, Patrick. He’s an Irish fella with a great personality.”

He could have just left it at Irish fella and I would have filled in the blank “with a great personality!”

Note: “Irish fella” in this posting refers to Irish American.

So, I met John, and I did love him right away. The one thing about people who grow up with a similar background is that they “get” each other.

He regaled us with stories. And he would occasionally look in the rear view mirror at me and say, “You know what I’m saying, right, Mary?”

I would say, “Yep, I do.”

He’d start, “I just can’t wait for tomorrow……”

And I finished for him, “Because I get better looking every day!”

Anyway, John, won a battle with childhood cancer but lost his leg. He was telling us about Ted Kennedy visiting him in the hospital. Ted also had a son who lost his leg to cancer. But took the time out to visit this kid. No fanfare. No publicity. Just visiting a sick boy because he knew what it was like to have a child in the same scary, life changing situation. John will never forget that day or Ted’s kindness.

My heart just warmed hearing that Ted walked into John’s room that day.

I love hearing about compassionate acts. Especially when no one’s looking. It is so very powerful.

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Annie is settling into her new international school in Malaysia. Second week almost completed! She even joined the soccer team. Oops, I mean football. Even our vocabulary will change. When she came home and told me she joined the football team I had visions of her one day playing the fullback position for the New England Patriots. With her grandfather and uncles as proud as Punch.  But no, it’s a soccer team.

She is making friends and meeting kids from everywhere! These kids have moved all over the world with their parents. Some have never lived in their passport country. They’ve resided in China, Dubai, Sweden, Mongolia, Turkey, Vietnam, Korea, Brunei, England and many other places. I only mention it because I think this makes a special kind of kid. They’re used to being in unfamiliar situations. They know what it’s like to always be the “new” kid. And I think it makes them a bit more compassionate. Everyone seems to be kind to each other.

Yesterday one of the girls in Annie’s class was coughing. The teacher heard her but said that she was sorry. No one was allowed to leave after the period began.

The teacher turned her back and got busy with something. And then one girl across the room pulled out a bottle of water. And passed it on to the next kid. He, in turn, passed it along to another. Until it reached the girl who was coughing. The bottle passed through about ten hands.

The teacher was none the wiser.

But the kids were. And I think that is really cool.

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