Today I’m going to give you a whole long quote from The Mom’s last-year’s lenten journal (which was posted elsewhere). Not that it’s ultra-personal or anything, but you will learn quite a lot about her, and our Family, from this one!
About compassion… Nouwen brings up the question of pity vs compassion. This has been difficult to define, in my experience. Having both a husband and a son who are totally blind, we have certainly been the recipients of what one might call “misplaced”–or to be frank, “unwanted”–sympathy. I’ll call it sympathy, since I’m still uncertain if it should be labelled pity or compassion. You see, the person offering the sympathy is certainly sincere and well-meaning. One could perhaps turn it around, to feel for that person, who is at a loss, who just cannot fathom what it would be like to live with such a handicap–and so he/she assumes it would be just a terrible, horrible thing.
Even as I write, and re-read Nouwen’s comments, a clue comes to me in his statement that “The suffering person calls us to become aware of our own suffering.” His suggestion is that you cannot have compassion on someone unless you have gone through exactly what they are going through. However, since we don’t expect people to be totally blind before they can
empathize with us, the key word might be understanding.
For people who DON’T understand, they think life is terrible for us. For people who DO understand, they simply make allowances for extra helping-things that have to be done. Some people are just better at putting themselves in another’s place, enabling themselves to understand. Of course, an important aspect of understanding, is getting to know a person. People who know us well enough, realize that we don’t need any sympathy–but just a little help sometimes. The ones who come out with impertinent questions about blindness, are generally virtual strangers to us.
A good way to sum up, is in Nouwen’s opening statement: “Compassion means to become close to the one who suffers.” If you are not close to the person, if you don’t know them, you can’t understand them. If you’re inclined to feel sorry for someone–you should first get to know them.
That’s certainly what God did, by becoming totally human!