Tuesday's UPI column

So there I was
Peggy Senger Parsons
Bujumbura, Burundi

Bc January 2, 2007

The Mystery of Compassion


So there I was…

…In an airport concourse so long I could see the curvature of the Earth. Gate B-95, no kidding. Deep winter, northern Europe, holiday season – Delay Central.

I was still pretty fresh when she caught my eye. Mid-twenties, a baby at her breast, four pieces of luggage, a half-crazed two year old boy and a compelling look of desperation.

Life presented me with about three seconds to make a decision. Look the other way, or be drawn into a vortex of need.

Then compassion struck and I surrendered to it.

I am a fairly high ranking member of the International Union of Mothers, and there are rules about these things.

So I engaged a toddler, and then took the well fed babe for a sleep in my arms, while the mother changed a diaper and rearranged herself and her luggage. She was on her way to Copenhagen from Vancouver, British Columbia - she had experienced two delays already. She wanted to see her parents. Women will do crazy things for love.

The most important thing I did was make sane adult conversation with an intelligent young woman at her wit’s end. You can give people some of your wits when they have exhausted theirs –wits transfer - Wits R Us – it’s a good thing.

She needed to see a ticket agent. She looked at me, took a deep breath, and made a huge decision. She decided to trust. It was a stunning act of beauty in an airport, our high temples of fear-driven security. A wave of warmth spread out from her and the anxious people around he shuddered a bit as the scent of heaven massaged their tight spots. Angels whistled.

“I am going to take the boy and see the agent; can I leave the luggage and the baby with you?”

I looked her in the soul and spoke with gentle authority.

“She is safe here – All is well – do what you need to do.”

“You have no idea how I appreciate this.”

“Actually, I do; been here, done this.”

An hour later I walked them to their gate and saw them on their way.

Compassion is a mystery. It is like unto its sisters, Love and Forgiveness. It has a big emotional component, sometimes it just falls upon you.

It is also a decision; you always have the choice to look the other way. Some days you assess the need of the other, and of yourself, and realize that you have to take care of yourself. You may determine that your resources and the need at hand are not a good match. You may realize that the need is too big and that the best you can do is report the situation to the switchboard at Higher Power Inc. They dispatch 24/7.

Compassion also requires action. Without action the feeling is called pity, and there are really good reason that everyone disdains pity.

Compassion is an emotional decisive course of action. Thank God, it is as common as dirt. And it is also one of the most powerful agents working in our world.

Mix it with a little trust and the gates of Hell get rattled.
Ah, I had a similar experience last year. After we got off the flight, we, of course, stopped by the nearest women's room. In the doorway were a mom we had seen on our plane and her maybe seven year old son. You know, old enough to complain about going into the women's room, not old enough to leave alone outside the bathroom in a strange airport. Two tired, frustrated people, one of whom had to pee, the fight was shaping up to be brutal. Having left my menfolk across the hallway, I stepped up to the mom and asked as quietly as I could, would it be all right with you for your son to stay with my husband and sons while you go in? His face opened in shock and hope. She looked at my husband, the seven- and four-year-old boys, then back at me, and desperation made her say yes. When she and I came back out, all four of them were deep in conversation about dragons - the boy and my son had both received the same dragonology book for Christmas. They continued the conversation all through the wait at the baggage carousel.
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