Compassion Isn’t a Project

Leaving the house by myself, I felt just slightly empty…like wadded up wrapping paper left on the floor.

Weeks of busy preparations and a flurry of work to bring Christmas to the homeless culminated on an uneventful, quiet and messy Saturday morning in a downpour.

Isn’t life just like that?

I drove to the part of town that I never have to drive to.  On the way over, I had time to think nervous thoughts and entertain self-doubt.

The words to a John Mayer song floated before me: Don’t be scared to walk alone.  Don’t be scared to like it.

This made me smile to myself.

I said a prayer that I would find the place I was looking for…where all the homeless gather on a Saturday to hear a sermon and get some food.  Probably not in that order.  I drove right around the corner to the place.  A safe distance away.  I was early enough so that I could get my bearings and imagine how it might go down. You know I like that control.

How very safe of me.

Through a small opening in a wild gathering of woods, I could see a ‘gate’ composed of two tarps barely touching.  There was a larger tarp fifteen feet back.   White, it appeared to be floating in the trees and its purpose was to protect the tents below from the rain.  Movement caught my eye and a man looked toward me as he walked away to somewhere else.  My heart lurched and I touched my door locks then.

I did.

The sharp long blasts of a train made me jump, the sound so close I felt it down deep.  I lower my window and listen to the roar of the water down the street from the morning’s deluge.

An old wet dog trotted by, seemed familiar with the tarp-gate and disappeared through it.

In my rear view mirror, a van pulled under the path to the bridge and I followed.  I felt like the new student in class…unsure and uncertain.

I introduced myself to the pastor who kindly told me how things go down and where I would fit in in handing out the Christmas backpacks and food packs we had made.  I can tell he has seen my help before…new and novel.  It is neither good nor bad.  I am immediately accompanied by J.L., a man moved off the streets and actually residing in my own privileged part of town.  He takes a bag for himself and helps me hand out bags and stands beside me and we talk.

He is always smiling with his eyes.

He will stay in the library today and read Shakespeare.  I ask ‘To stay dry or because you love Shakespeare?’

‘Both.’ He says and laughs. He points out L., who he ‘let stay with him time to time ‘cause she is going through a rough one.’  Her appearance cracks my heart.  Not because she is disheveled or unclean…

Because of those eyes of hers.

A man asks me for my rain boots and I gently tell him no.

On the way home, my mind is full and confused the way it is when familiar things don’t look the same.

And I ponder compassion fully…not just in light of this morning.  It has always been a driving force for me…that connection that tethers human souls together.  Growing up on the other side of the white picket fence, I can name the people who took time to look me in the eye.

And it made all the difference in the world to me.

This is what I came to on the slower-than-necessary drive back home…

Compassion is not a project.  It does not fit into your schedule.  It isn’t a good deed or a status update for facebook.  It is not neat, clean, safe, or contingent on your mood, circumstances or finances.  You cannot walk tall and have compassion.  It’s a constant stooping.  An ache in the back.  An unnatural posture.

Compassion is…secret, wild, messy, uncomfortable.  It smells and it is missing teeth and sometimes dignity.  It requires time and heart and thought and a set of eyes and a heart willing to be opened.

Compassion is two souls in this world looking each other in the eye because one is willing to enter in to the other’s experience.

And when you meet with it on the one side…and then on the other because life is like that too, you know…it will change you for better.  It will scrape away all your self-sufficience and pride and comfort.  These things that tend to scale up for all of us.

And it will leave you aching and raw, full and empty at the same time…but with a gift…

The gift of loving better.

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  1. Sara Aguirre | 27th Dec 13

    Mel, your words are gripping and powerful. We are so lucky to have been through such unlucky circumstances that make us have compassion for each other. Keep going! Keep growing! I can see your light from here!

    • | 27th Dec 13

      Sara, I know how very Mary Poppins this sounds…but every time I read a comment you leave…I am delighted. Really. Your words are music. And lovely. And I appreciate them so much. You are exactly right. I love you.

  2. marianne pitchford | 27th Dec 13

    Another fabulous and thought grabbing word! Thank you!

    • | 28th Dec 13

      Marianne, I love and miss you being here in Texarkana. Truest story. Thank you.

  3. Jill Tucker | 28th Dec 13

    You told me to love better in another circumstance. Okay not like that, but anyway, point is that your thought has stuck with me and I’m trying. Thank you for the bloggily inspiration here, too.

    • | 28th Dec 13

      Jill, I remember this conversation. Hard to do. Harder especially when we are intimately acquainted with the other party. How is that? You inspire me all the time.

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