When I started as a hospice volunteer, one of my first coordinators was a woman named Leslie. She assigns patients to volunteers who visit once a week, providing company to people who are at a tender time in life.
Leslie is one of the most compassionate people I know. Her kindness rubs off.
When Leslie started working as a hospice volunteer, she was given the chance to visit a man who was openly racist; Leslie is African-American. She agreed to look in on someone who might not welcome her.
A dying man needed companionship. She could provide it. So, she went.
The man was cold to her at first. She allowed him to decide whether she should visit again. He said that would be fine, so she returned. Persistently.
Week after week, she visited and showed kindness to the man, who slowly warmed to her. They grew into close friends during his final weeks. Leslie’s compassion changed the man’s heart.
That’s what compassion does. First, it changes our hearts. Then it compels us to do something to help another.
Compassion changes everything.
We saw an example of compassion trying to do its transformation thing last week. Donald Trump saw images of children killed by gas in Syria, and his heart apparently was moved.
“No child of God should ever suffer such a horror,” Trump said.
For years, he had insisted that suffering people in Syria and millions of refugees should be ignored – they’re not our problem. And yet, there he was, saying he’d been touched by those images of dying children. He could be indifferent no longer. He recognized these Muslim children as beloved children of God. He had to do something.
Compassion changes us
Of course, we can and we must debate his response. Creating missile craters in the ground in a show of power-and-might does nothing to help the millions of others who are facing horrors that none of God’s children should face. Refugees still face bans.
And we are left with some questions: Will our compassion be only momentary and severely limited? Does our response to the suffering of God’s children amount to making craters in a field?
There are many other children of God dying not from gas but from bombs and bullets and building collapses and disease and malnutrition — the many horrific things that are manifestations of war. Will we do something life-affirming and help them escape their horror?
Or will we slip back into fear and orthodoxy and dogma that wall off our compassion? Will we insist that it’s too dangerous to help and it might cost us some money as well, so we’ll move on?
Go and do the same
A Jewish rabbi from the Middle East takes aim on that attitude in one of his most famous and challenging lessons. He tells the story of a man who is robbed on a dangerous road and left for dead. Two religiously observant people see him and decide not to stop at this dangerous spot that has already been a target for robbers. Instead, they move on.
Along comes a dreaded Samaritan who is moved by compassion. The Samaritan not only puts himself on the line by stopping, but cleans this total stranger’s wounds – now that’s nasty and uncomfortable! – and then takes him to an inn and writes a blank check to cover whatever it costs to get him well.
We know how the story ends: Go and do the same. You can’t save everyone, but you can save this one. So, do it. Let compassion be your guide.
If our policy discussions start with a recognition that everyone is an equally beloved child of God and must be cared for in that way, then we’ll make more compassionate choices as we go down the dangerous road. They may not be the safest choices or the most comfortable choices or the least-expensive choices, but they’ll be the most God-like choices.
We’ll stop to help the one in need, whether it’s a left-for-dead traveler or a racist hospice patient or a terrified refugee family. We’ll be compassionate, as God is compassionate.