Pentecost 94

Pentecost 94
My Psalm 94

Compassion

“We don’t need another machine in the world. We already have a bunch of them. We need more emotion.” So said Adrian Romoff, a nine-year-old pianist from Atlanta, Georgia as he auditioned this year for a popular television talent program. There is a formula for musical performance and in his original audition piece, Romoff followed that formula. He played something with technical difficulty but more importantly, he played something with a “wow” factor. However, he was called on it and so, firmly believing in the above quote, he asked to play something else. His second piece backed up another quote of his: “There can never be a [successful] piano-playing robot.” Romoff let the emotion of his soul be the “wow” in his second performance and his audition was successful.

Sitting in a waiting area, whether at an airport or a hospital venue, one can hear amazing aspects of the human condition. The airport became a place of intense tension in the days after September 11, 2001. What had been seen as means of supersonic transport became tools of mass destruction. That irritating passenger who hogged your arm rest suddenly became a suspect who might just hold the rest of your life in their coat pocket. Still, life went on, almost defiantly and so, people continued their travel.

In late January 2002, an international cosmetics company held their annual convention and distributors traveled from around the world to the temperate locale of their meeting. Wearing the world-known colors of their company, the representatives, mostly women, streamed off planes and into the airport terminal. A week later, their pilgrimage reversed as they prepared to return home. Full of energy from their week of meetings and greetings, they viewed each person coming into the airport with a smile, sharing their energy. Per the new security procedures, though, most found themselves waiting in long lines to be checked. The cosmetics representatives, with hours of seminar trainings and sales techniques in their minds, began doing mini demonstrations to their fellow line-waiters. Flights were delayed as boarding procedures were complicated and one saw full-out facials being given in the waiting area seats. The smiles were contagious and the willingness to share alleviated the tension. Men and women alike felt the benefit of this accidental compassion in dealing with the unspoken fear of the situation.

A person in that airport on that day found themselves in a similar situation of “hurry up and wait” a few years later in a hospital emergency room waiting area. This time, though, the only thing on everyone’s mind was the misery that had brought them. The wait became protracted, even longer than the airport wait. The only communication between those waiting was to gripe about how long they had been there. The old adage “Misery loves company” had no takers that early morning. A young mother with two small children found herself with too much to bear and suddenly broke down crying. Our person who by now felt like an expert in waiting offered a package of crackers to the young mother and in doing so, a helping hand. Because of the airport experience several years earlier, our expert in waiting now kept a snack pack with them when waiting. Once again compassion alleviated a tense situation.

Compassion to many people is the offering of assistance. It actually means sharing misery or grief. It is a combination of two Latin words: “pati”, meaning suffer, and “com”, a prefix used to mean together or coming together. When we compassionate, according to the original definition, we are sharing the suffering and in doing so, making it better or, at least, bearable.

What does it take to offer compassion? How self-confident does one have to be to share in the emotion of the moment, to step outside of their own head space and share the feeling? “A human being is a part of a whole, called by us, the universe,” believed Einstein. Whether or not you think he was correct, it is an inescapable fact that we all live on this planet and thus, all live together, excepting for the three or four who may be on the International Space Station at any given moment. They, however, are dependent upon their life supports systems operated by those here on earth so, in my opinion, we all live together.

Recently I was asked to consider compassion but what I think I was asked to consider was really empathy. Empathy is the ability to put one’s self in the place of another and then offer compassion. Compassion would have been to join in the griping of those waiting in the hospital waiting area. If everyone gripes, then no one is seen as impatient and the group shares in the misery. Empathy was recognizing the situation, the lack of an easy and quick resolution for the parent, and then sharing the package of crackers with the young mother and children. Empathy does ot mean becoming a doormat for someone, though.

There are countless studies one can read about the mental development needed for developing compassion. I like some and dislike others. I feel I have that right because none of us are clones of each other and I think development is a unique process that each of us partakes in with similarities but no exactness. However, look at a twenty-four hour infant in a nursery and it is undisputable that the crying of other babies does not distress the infant. However, put that same baby is a nursery environment three months later and that baby recognizes the crying as a sign of distress and will look towards the baby crying and often, extend a hand. The infant, hopefully, has been nurtured in those three months and thus, compassion has subconsciously begun to take place and grow.

Gandhi advised us to “Be the change you want to see in the world.” There is no better place to start than with compassion and the resulting empathy. Perhaps it is to listen as the young girl in the waiting room seeks to be seen for herself, the cuts on her wrist evidence that she felt bereft of presence and the need to continue living. The simple act of a smile, especially to someone who feels invisible, can be life-saving. A facial might be extravagant and perhaps for many a useless luxury, but the exercise can be stress-relieving and valuable for those with anxiety. Taking a few seconds out of a busy schedule to look outside of your own situation, to forget one’s self and view the larger world might just be the best favor you ever do yourself. Like Adrian Romoff said: “We need more emotion.” We need more people not afraid to show emotion and share life.

My Psalm 94

O Lord, let me think kindly on those who do not.
Let me remember they also suffer who do not see the suffering of others.
They think I deserve my pain.
They think their refusal to help another is done in secret.
They forget, O Creator, that the Great One who made our eyes
Also sees.
They forget that he/she who fashioned our ears also hears the cries of life.
Let me walk in my own conscience and not follow their steps.
Let me not take own their problems and guilt.
Help me, O Lord, to be what I want to be.
Help me remember you are my greatest Source;
You are a constant help in everything.
Let me act in love and not turn away in fear.

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