A blog post on compassion
On June 9th, I was experiencing the worst fibromyalgia flare I've had in a very long time; it's been so long that I can't even remember when the last time I even had a fibro flare was. When I have pain like that, there's not a lot I can do that help: Even laying down perfectly still doesn't help much, and drugs barely touch the pain. Tuesday also happened to be the first day of summer vacation when my kids were at my house. Of course, that means none of them were actually here for one part of the day as my chauffeur duties increase during the summer. They all needed to be dropped off at various locations, so I was driving with major pain wracking my body.
On the way home from dropping them off at their various events, I returned via a stoplight that is long and painful to get through. It often takes two cycles to make it through the light, and since the light is timed in favor of the other direction, that takes a while. Because it is such a slow yet busy signal, it's also a favorite place for the homeless to stand requesting money. When I arrived at the stoplight, I was in a great deal of pain after 35 minutes of driving, and I just wanted to get home. I knew I was right on the edge of the number of cars that would get through in the first cycle of the light, so I was really hoping everyone in front of me was paying attention so I could get through on the first cycle and get home.
Four cars in front of me was an Austin Police Department car. As traffic started moving forward, the police vehicle's lights came on. I assumed that the person in front of the police car had lights out or something similar and were about to be pulled over. However, as we got closer to the traffic light, the police car came to a stop and the driver's door opened. I was utterly frustrated because I knew that this meant I wouldn't get through the light in the first cycle. The police officer had stopped immediately next to an older homeless man holding a cardboard sign, and I began to worry that he was getting out to ticket the homeless man for panhandling as there are local laws against pandhandling in roadways. While I agree that panhandling is a major issue in Austin, it was obvious this man was homeless and in need of assistance, and in those cases, my heart goes out to those who are so limited in their resources that they have no choice but to beg in order to survive. I really didn't want to see this homeless guy get harassed.
What happened then completely surprised me. Instead of berating the homeless man, the police officer handed him a brown paper grocery bag. The officer lifted out the contents to show the homeless man what was in it: clothing. It was only then that I noticed that the homeless man was wearing what appeared to be a woman's housedress or a long hospital gown. The homeless man was truly appreciative, accepted the bag, and then stuck out his hand to shake the officer's hand in gratitude. The officer shook his hand, got back in his car, turned off the lights, and drove forward to the now red light.
At that point, I started to cry, so moved by what I had just witnessed. It was nothing like what I had expected. Even though I was still in pain and still wanted desperately to get home, I was grateful that the Universe had made me slow down to witness this act of compassion when I least expected to see it. As I sat in my car at the light, I watched the homeless man very slowly walk to the highway underpass area, sit down, and then very painstakingly start to slip on the pants that were previously in the bag. Clearly he had mobility impairments, and this was a challenge for him, but the fact that he was putting on the clothes then and there told me how happy he was to have them.
It's a sad statement that seeing an act of compassion like this one is so rare in our society that it would move me to tears. So many people are struggling to survive on even the most basic of levels such as finding shelter, restrooms, clothing, food, and water. We all have our challenges and struggles in this world, though some problems are more acute than others. It will be an amazing day when our society is able to figure out how to move past greed to a point that ensures that all of us have our basic needs met without having to beg for it to happen. I'm glad that I was able to witness this small step in that direction.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC. Edited version reprinted with permission.