We were taking a tea break one recent November afternoon at Beacon headquarters when one of us took a look at the words on the tag of their tea, then asked aloud “Is Compassion Beautiful?”
The answer from the staff was a resounding yes. It echoed for a minute before we realized how shocking it was that the question even had to be asked. Compassion is no longer a given in our world.
Compassion has always been the realm of women. These anonymous newspaper editorials are frequently written by men, who must be forgiven for not giving much credence to compassion in the realm of world affairs. Their traditional role has been one of protection and provision — it is a tough and lonely path that many men walk in pursuit of these things for their families.
But, more and more, compassion has a role to play on the world’s stage.
Globalization has brought the world of things to our doorsteps, especially as we huddle at home trying to outlast the pandemic, shopping online and awaiting delivery trucks.
Globalization has also brought the stories of the people who make these things into our homes in an intimate way. The stories on the 24-hour news stations can be numbing. The stories we hear when reaching out through the world wide web are more personal and intimate. A friend on the other side of the world can show you a reality you could never have fathomed. It opens your heart and it implores you to become an engaged citizen of the world.
In this season of religious festivities, we’re reminded often that compassion is one of the greatest virtues to be taught by religious traditions. Compassion is not just empathy. It is not just feeling another person’s pain. It is a call to action to show up for the people around us, whether they are our physical neighbors or are connected through the bonds of family or industry or friendship, regardless of where in the world they may be.
In these times of isolation, the miles between us have become nearly irrelevant — time zones and circadian rhythms are the real factors that keep us from getting closer to the other side of the world, not physical distance.
But compassion does begin in our backyard. We often hear, in other local media outlets here, grand statements about our marvelous way of life on the East End, as if this were a place brimming with champagne, swimming pools and pods of Covid-free children being tutored at home.
The reality we’ve lived, as lifelong East Enders, is nothing like these Instagram pictures. People here are hungry. People here are losing their homes, their jobs, their health insurance and the businesses they’ve spent lifetimes building. The crush of city escapees, while a boon in some ways to our local economy, has dramatically upended our neighborhoods, as longtime East End homeowners cash out and head to Maine or the Carolinas, while renters displaced by anything-goes lease rates are still here, encamped on friends’ couches, grieving their situations daily as they head off to the jobs that are still left in the service industry.
We are all really not too far from this fate, and when we witness people we know in such situations it is easy to avert our eyes, to think quickly “there but for the grace of God go I” and walk on.
But this is a season in which God’s grace is naturally abundant, and it works through people who chose to, instead of walking by, show a bit of compassion and lend a hand.
There is no room to let grace into your life if you believe we are playing a winner-take-all, zero sum game. This is the season to unlearn those games.
The good news is that the grace hidden in the inner workings of the universe is on our side. There is no grace without faith, and faith is the belief that there is good in the world and it is working to the benefit of us all. This is the natural resonance we’ve come to think of here as the Christmas spirit, though it is a central tenet of all faiths. To access it all you have to do is listen.