If compassion is the line that connects us to others, then, some of my lines are very weak. Invisible, unfeeling, unbuilt. And even the thicker lines don’t often engage my sense of feeling. But my sense of logic is quickly engaged.
Calwell, circa 2005. I’m working the late shift in a petrol station and in walks Jono. Jono is young, a little unwashed, very friendly, but with a hint of desperation in his interactions. We chat. I find out his girlfriends Dad hates him and ran him out of his country town and he’s in the capital seeking something. Anything. He’s hungry, so I feed him what I had. Servo pies. Ice Cream. He asks to sleep behind the counter. And I let him. Whats the worst he can do. But the best is, that he’s sleeping inside, safe. My manager arrives, and gives me a look like I am the craziest person in the world for letting a kid sleep there. Asks me to get rid of him. So as this kid leaves, I tell him that if he wants, he can come back in an hour when I finish and crash on my couch. He does, and I don’t sleep. because I have now brought him into my house with my house mates who don’t know him and have not chosen the logical conclusion I have. So i keep myself awake. Watching over my house and my friends stuff.
Later, I offer him a bed at my parents house, but he never shows. A week after he came to my work again to borrow my skateboard to go in a competition that he could win some money at. I give him my board. All the logical dots line up. He will return it in the morning. I never see him or my board again.
Fast forward to this week. I’m standing in front of a catholic cathedral in the middle of the city I now call home. On the other side of the world. I speak very little of the language. And the last decade of my life has taught me that some homeless people don’t “need” help. They are homeless by choice and treat begging like selling any product. In this case, desperation. I learned this lesson in south east asia where “the mob” (whatever that is), use disabled children to collect money from tourists. I also learned this my first time in Vilnius when three very well spoken men gave me a very similar story. Although one man had a very convincing leg wound (which I again saw a year later when I met him again, still needing money for the bus) and another a very convincing Chicago accent. These are the people tugging on the heart strings of those compassionate but without the time. But from locals I have learned that there are certain people on the street, needing money, because their street dwelling is not of their choosing.
So, my logical empathy has taken a hit. Both one of linguistic limits. But also one of distrust. And no one really likes being deceived.
But how does one then determine the relationship lines that would be the best to invest in. I am currently reading a book and one of the lines in it this morning was “I would decide every issue from the standpoint of how it would affect all of us”. I sentiment that made me nod, but then filled my head with questions. If each human is valuable, then wouldn’t all times and places be important and affect all of us? And there is the side head bobble of… hmmmm yeh nah. The systems that keep people suffering, the choices that each of us make in reaction to trauma, the arrogance of a worldview that just wants to get me mine….. affect us all in different ways.
And each decision we make, each step we take toward hope or no hope, can determine effects on many. And we can hope for a better ‘system’ of relationship and interaction and wealth – and do nothing. Or we can start making baby steps toward that hope. Whilst others of us have no hope and therefore make no baby steps to anything positive.
The biblical prophets kept pointing to the agreement God made with His people. “Don’t sin.. but if you do, come to me through the door I provided, so that you can make things right” The prophets pointed to something greater than themselves to call the people to remember, to return to that great hope they had been given. The hope of being chosen, of belonging to the creator God, to be rid of death forever.
We have that too. And we are that too. Prophets to generation in turmoil. In every respect. We can build our compassion and be with people like Jesus is with us.