When brown-bagging solo, I prefer to picnic under the shade of a significant oak that towers above the east side of St. Francis Church on the west edge of downtown Waco. Days like this one are ideal for lowering car windows and allowing autumn zephyrs to blow in and out, finding refreshment in the process. I routinely enjoy these tranquil moments without distraction, which explains my frustration with the young woman who interrupted my Taco Bell Deal #4 by approaching and sitting on the steps nearby, disturbing my solitary peace in this cherished space. Her arrival annoyed me and I was about to depart in frustration when I looked closer and noticed that she was both pregnant and crying. The teenager was speaking with someone on a cell phone and from her gestures and expression I could see the conversation wasn’t going well, her end of it anyway. Annoyance yielded to compassion and I paused to pray for resolution of all that was distressing and leaving her in tears. For all I know, her life and that of her unborn child hung in the balance of that conversation.
Life is fragile and deserves awareness. How often do life and death struggles wage war under my nose with no acknowledgement whatsoever on my part? How frequently am I stone cold oblivious to the damage done to human dignity by preoccupation with myself? I cannot say that my prayer helped the young lady observed from behind my windshield, but I can say that it softened me towards the angst of a fellow human being. In the end, prayer is more for my sake than for God’s, and compassion changes me far more than it changes anyone else. “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human” (Henri Nouwen).