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The Meaning of Compassion

Updated: Sep 25, 2023

February 13, 2023

A homeless man came into our gallery last week. His disheveled, unwashed appearance seemed incongruous in our business. He was hungry and headed straight for the dish of candy always available for our visitors. He said he was headed up the road to the next town with his bike and attached wagon and needed a thermos where he could put hot water or beverages in. He asked if I knew of a church open in the immediate area where he might get one, as he didn’t have enough money to buy one. For a short while, I wondered if I gave him money, would I be enabling some negative, unhealthy habit. While he gave little credence to the social welfare programs available, I found myself wanting to judge his lack of responsibility for his choices. And then I stopped myself and told him I could give him the dollars in the donation box. His eyes lit up and he thanked me profusely, Before he left, I gave him an apple and some more chocolates, took one of his hands in mine and said, “safe travels wherever they may lead”. As he pedaled out of the parking lot, munching on the apple, I think I understood the meaning of compassion, a desire to relieve the physical, mental or emotional pain of another human being.

Compassion, a requisite for a civilized society and an essential tool for building peace, is a vibration that resonates throughout the universe for we are all connected. Mother Teresa exemplified this point: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Beginning each day, her mantra was centered in “how may I serve”.

When you witness suffering in the world, it triggers intense emotions of anger, anxiety, sadness or shame. At the same time, however, there is an enormous opportunity to get propelled into action, whether it be constructive physical assistance or a prayerful visualization of remedies and a positive outcome Right before the homeless man left, our eyes met and I saw a flash of a human spirit. For a brief moment, I recognized a link, that perhaps we are all homeless, searching life for fulfillment and meaning.

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