On compassion…

I judge. It is what I do.

I am a people watcher from the word go, and for me it is not generally an exercise in edification, mine nor those so tormented to be found beneath my gaze. I do work very hard to stand in the way of my own comfort at the bench, doing what I can to make the passing of judgment less natural, but at the end the day, I have very little natural compunction for compassion.

I know, in truth, that I have no room to judge others around me, or not around me as the case may often be. I am all-too aware of how short I fall of my own stellar standards. I am blessed with repeated reminders of my own folly, and duly graced with friends (and enemies, I am sure) who cut me slack where I would have never been so benevolent. A rational woman would take a hint.

But in the laboratory of everyday life, the facts don’t often do much to wrench the gavel from my stubborn, unjust fists. In practice, the monster within stays the unholy course.

What does seem to settle my inner critic, and bring me baby steps closer to the person I am meant to be, is the well-placed (and well-timed) aphorism. Somehow a philosophical rendering of the facts gives me something to get my mind (and my dark, dark soul) around, something to hang onto in the face of temptation.

Funnily enough, the first maxim comes straight from the tube:

IMG_20181030_134353.jpgWe can’t know what’s in another person’s heart… we can’t know what’s in our own. Life turns on a dime, and somehow we muddle through.”

~ RuthAnne, Northern Exposure, season 3, episode 1

Leave it to RuthAnne. I think she was moralizing at Ed Chigliak. Maybe it was Maggie. Whoever she intended her advice for, it fell on me, and whenever I find myself railing on the guy next door for his ridiculous life-choices, I see RuthAnne, imparting wisdom from behind her rows of canned goods. Who would ever think that sweet Alaskan granny would follow me through life, saving me from myself?

Next is a bit more pointed, but serves me equally as well:

Be kind. Everyone you meet is waging a great battle.

~ email signature of a wise friend, originally Philo of Alexandria? (the quote, not the friend)

So simple, but so powerful. The first time I got to the bottom of the email graced with this adage of saintly brilliance, I just had to sit and stare at it for a while. No wiggle room there. When I’m feeling especially pokey-and-proddy, the insistence of this one will often talk me down and guilt me into some measure of repentance. Anything that can urge me to confession holds a special place in my heart.

One more. We’re getting deeper:

How does the image of God in me meet the image of God in others around me, particularly my enemies?

~ Out of context (and no-doubt severely mis-quoted) snippet from the Reader Mark’s homily this morning

So I am made in God’s image, and no matter what I do, that image is within me, waiting for every opportunity to shine forth, waiting for me to scrape enough crap off the windshield to let Him out. And, stated as another one of those facts that have a hard time changing my heart and actions, everyone else is also made in God’s image, even those I can’t stand. Even those that seem to make it their study to sabotage my life. Even those who cut me off in the fast lane while I’m taking a tenuous sip of my hot cocoa.

It is one thing to work on freeing the image of God within me. This is hard work, as I have accumulated years and years of hard-bought gunk, specifically designed to entrap the light, confuse the mind, and numb the spirit.

It is another thing to practice finding the shards of light trying to escape from others. This, too, is hard work, to see through the personal gunk of the other, into the depths of their heart, where that image is still shining bright.

To merge these two acts, to ask the question Mark put forth, is really to work out my salvation on the most basic level. And what a glorious way to curb my tendencies to send my fellow man to the gallows.

May the very proverb you need today fall into your lap, and may it forever follow you, urging you towards your salvation.


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