I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks thinking about compassion, dissecting it and attempting to define it in some way. I prayed about it, I researched it, I perused texts written by ancient philosophers pertaining to it, I read passages biblical scholars have written and found blessings in the verses long ago penned to pieces of parchment.
I took notes, jotted down my own thoughts and feelings and complied them to create my own compassion dissertation of sorts. It was good, I daresay it was really, really good.
I deleted it. It wasn’t a purposeful deletion. I’m not ashamed to say I felt a little devastated. Those words were pieces of my heart and I lost them.
I was done.
Ready to throw in the proverbial towel and simply be done. I was angry at myself and ever so slightly defeated.
But then . . .
I was lifted up, encouraged, and compelled by the kindness of others to shake it off and start again. I became the grateful recipient of compassion freely and without hesitation offered by strangers who in a strange way have become a family. They come from all walks of life, from countries around the world I will likely never see. Some speak languages I will never speak, and some are so very different from me – and yet – we are the same in more ways than I ever could have imagined.
They exist in a village called 1000 Voices, they exist in my heart. Though miles and miles and thousands more miles may separate us, they are as close as a click of a keyboard away.
That is a beautiful thing.
So with the new-found strength they helped me muster I began again to write of compassion. It’s not the same as it was, not nearly, but they are my words and they come from a place of love and compassion and thankfulness.
1000 Voices Speak For Compassion has touched my soul and I am more than exceedingly thankful for it.
The philosophy of compassion is not new. Since the beginning of time compassion has been a thread woven into the fabric of humanity. Biblical scholars wrote of it, ancient philosophers spoke of it, and today, we too, come together to remind every willing ear of its importance.
For an ideal so grand, so important, and so necessary, I have a hard time trying to understand why so many do not seem to embrace it. Are they ignoring the primal instinct I simply have to believe we all possess to be compassionate? Do they simply misunderstand the true meaning of compassion? My fear is some people just don’t care, and I have to say, the thought breaks my heart.
One dictionary defines compassion as a noun, a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
I just don’t think that 23 word blurb even comes close to actually defining compassion.
Thích Nhất Hạnh is quoted as saying, “Compassion is a verb.” I agree.
Compassion without action is just a word, a simple noun like chair or rock. It has to be something more than a lovely concept or lofty ideal we sit around and talk about over coffee.
It’s not enough to have compassion, you have to be compassionate. How often do we see something or someone and think, oh, that’s heartbreaking, and then move on? We may feel compassion, but we don’t always act on it.
True compassion has to be acted on, it has to become tangible, it needs to exceed the definition printed to a page in a dictionary. It must be more than a feeling, more than a desire to act . . . it is the act that impacts.
Being a compassionate person says more about who we are as human beings than it does about those on the receiving end. Compassion does not mean acceptance. The capacity to care about the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of another should not be conditional, measured or rationed based on whether or not we agree with someone’s choices, their beliefs, or their lifestyle.
When you suffer, I suffer too. In attempting to relieve your burdens, I too find a sweet relief. Admittedly, sometimes it’s hard to feel compassion, let alone act on it. When I look at the monstrous acts committed by some, I have a hard time finding compassion for them . . . I have to close my eyes and envision the child they once were.
Sometimes, a prayer is all the compassion I can muster, but in that prayer, I ask the Lord to still my heart and help the one I am unable, perhaps unwilling to help. Christ had compassion for those who nailed him to a cross. He said, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” I try to remember his grace as he slipped from earthly life, I try to remember that in the midst of the sorrow of his sacrifice, he showed compassion.
I don’t want to be thought of as a compassionate person, I want to be a compassionate person, but I must admit, there are moments when compassion becomes a choice I must make, moments when it would be so much easier not to be.
To me, this means looking past a persons deeds or circumstances and seeing the helplessness within them, the same helplessness that exists in each of us. I don’t have to subscribe to the same beliefs and ideologies someone may hold to extend a helping hand when they are in need, I simply need to reach out and offer it.
Sometimes, this means I offer a kind word to the unkind, charity to one who may be less than charitable, or help someone who would not go out of their way to help me. It may be naive, but there is a part of me that hopes my compassion for them may stir something within their own hearts, help them see that proverbial light I have been blessed to see.
Compassion is a verb.
It doesn’t end here.
My recent involvement with the amazing compassion initiative #1000speak, has me thinking quite a lot about moments I’ve been witness to acts of kindness and compassion, I wish there were more of these moments to remember, perhaps one day my heart will be filled to capacity with these beautiful memories.
I’ve shared this particular story before, it seems appropriate to re-share as I gather my thoughts in preparation for February 20th, the day 1000 bloggers will come together to reach every willing ear with a message, a call to action, an invitation to embrace compassion and kindness.
My Coffee Shop Blessing
My heart was touched today by an unexpected kindness I was blessed to be witness to . . .
I went to the coffee shop to write, I wasn’t intending to document my time there, sometimes we choose what to write, sometimes we write what chooses us.
I’m watching the world from a cozy corner of the coffee shop. On hot days like this everyone orders iced coffees and teas, except the older folk, they seem to be sticking to good old hot coffee, nothing fancy. I’m glad they do, a mocha frappucino just doesn’t have the delightful aroma only a freshly brewed cup of coffee can hold.
It’s busy today. Usually I make a hasty retreat home when all the tables are filled and the line is long, but today the people have captivated me. I don’t wish to speak to them mind you, just watching them suits me fine. It’s kind of a hobby I suppose you could say. You learn a lot about human nature by observing the people around you.
I feel like a documentarian hidden from some undiscovered tribe in some far off mountain jungle, taking notes for what will be a fascinating new Discovery Chanel exclusive. Except if I was, I think I’d just leave them be, why risk them being invaded by what we call humanity. Perhaps our world has me feeling a bit jaded today, I wouldn’t mind being part of a tribe far removed from civilization to be honest, it’s getting difficult to find much civility these days.
Enough with the noises in my own mind . . . A woman just walked in, she looks a bit disheveled and a lot perturbed, sort of how I look after cleaning house all morning actually. She rolled her eyes and sighed heavily as she took her place in line. She isn’t the only one here with their grumpy face on, it’s a shame, I wonder if they realize what a beautiful day it is. Maybe they are jaded as well.
A middle-aged man trying unsuccessfully to look like a younger version of himself just took out his earbuds to ask why there aren’t more people behind the counter. There are four of them back there, two on the registers and two making drinks. I don’t think there’s enough elbow room for another. It looks like the grumpy lady is leaving. Only three people left in front of her too. I’m going to whisper a prayer for her, she needs a blessing today. Maybe two.
Ah, loud talking cell phone man has made an entrance. There is always a loud talking someone on a cell phone these days. It seems he has a Dr. Appointment a 3:00 to get his cholesterol checked and needs to stop by the store for some bread. He has plans for the weekend so he won’t be able to make it even though he really wanted to be there. For some reason I think loud cell phone man is fibbing. He’s probably going to forget the bread.
Oh, grumpy lady has returned, she still looks annoyed, but with one person in line now maybe she’ll stay long enough to order. She keeps looking at her phone and frowning at it, she can’t seem to keep her foot from tapping. There is an air of expectant worry about her. Maybe three blessings today would be best.
I find myself drawn to one girl in particular, a lovely young lady so self-conscious about her weight she draws attention to it by tugging and shifting her clothes with every breath. She has no idea she is the most beautiful girl in the room. She noticed me looking and tried to shrink into the wall. I smiled, but I don’t know if she saw me. Her clothes and bright red hair seem to scream for attention, but her eyes don’t reflect the same need. I hope someone tells her she’s beautiful today.
Everyone not completely glued to an electronic screen of some sort is looking toward the homeless man who just came in. He makes his temporary home behind the strip mall around the corner, I’ve seen him here before. He’s waiting in line to ask for some water. Depending on who answers and what kind of day they are having he may not be given any.
Sophia, formerly known as grumpy lady, has just picked up her tea, I would have thought she was a coffee drinker. You just never know. She is watching the homeless man as well. The girl at the register just turned him away.
Several minutes have passed since the homeless man was told if he was not a paying customer he would have to leave. I had to stop watching and writing for a spell. People surprise me sometimes. When Sophia saw him turn to leave she reached out for his arm. When he looked up from the floor she offered her drink to him, she said, “I haven’t taken a drink yet.”
He shook his head no, but she smiled and he accepted the kindness. I found myself wiping my eyes as he walked out the door. Sophia returned to the line she seemed so frustrated with before. There were four people ahead of her, every one of them let her pass to the front. The girl behind the register said, “You know, you can’t help them all.” Sophia handed her a five dollar bill and said, “No, but you could have helped him.” Still wiping my eyes I smiled at her as she walked by, she smiled back. A man sitting a few tables from the door got up and opened it for her. I thanked God for getting to those blessings so quickly.
I’ve learned things are not always what they seem, people are often more than we expect them to be, sometimes they are less. Sometimes they just need someone to be kind, to look past their grumpy expression, their weight, their manner of dress, their color, their status, their extroverted nature or their introverted nature, and see the person beneath it all.
I love sitting here at the coffee shop, just watching the people.
Crystal R. Cook
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