French writer Marguerite Yourcenar says that compassion "inflicts its knifelike pain only on those who, strong or not, brave or not, intelligent or not (such qualities are beside the point), have been granted the horrible gift of looking the world full in the face and seeing it as it is."
And this quote makes me wonder. Wonder about the times I have really looked the world "full in the face".
Here's a time I remember:
I was teaching on the Navajo Reservation at a Bureau of Indian Affairs Boarding School, and I was there for what seemed like seconds before I fell in love. Head over heels completely in love. Yes, madly in love with twenty-five of the naughtiest boys you have ever encountered. Twenty-five boys ages five to eleven who lived in a dorm and only saw their parents on weekends.
I met those boys, and I learned about suffering when I saw the devastated looks in the eyes of kids whose parents had once again "forgotten" that Friday was pick-up day. I learned about addiction when I met families torn apart by alcoholism and the ugliness that often follows. And I learned about finding joy in a place where joy doesn't easily bloom, when one of my favorite troublemakers stole a box of old and already written out Valentines and shoved one card under my door every morning.
The truth is, if given the opportunity, I probably would have looked away from much of what I saw out in that desert boarding school. However, since I was alone and without a phone, TV, friends, or any other means of escape, I was forced to see the hurt, experience the sadness, and cherish the joy surrounding me.
I knew I was looking into the world "as it was", but I didn’t know that at the same time, I was growing compassion.
What about you? Have you ever "looked at the world full in the face" and later found compassion?