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Compassion

On the radio a few days ago there was a piece about refugees arriving by boat to the shores of a country that in the past had been welcoming, but this time people were yelling angrily and running into the water to block the boats from landing.  The boats were full and there were children on board. The turmoil and anger in the crowd was audible. I don’t speak their language, but the reporter said that people blocking the boats were shouting “Go back home. We don’t care about the babies.”

I was repulsed. I could not stop thinking about it. “We don’t care about the babies.” What would it take for me to say that? For my friends to say that? My neighbors? Horrible thought, that people I know might be moved to yell at desperate people “We don’t care about the babies.” I started to ask myself how that could happen, what it would feel like to push away needy people and shout “I don’t care about the babies.”

Please don’t stop reading when I tell you that suddenly my heart leapt to those who were yelling and pushing. How frightened they must be. How little they must have to feel secure about and how much to dread. What must have happened to them? 

I went on to wonder what it would feel like to be them, to be so changed in my fundamental humanity that I could stop caring about the babies, that I could say that out loud, that I could act on that feeling? What if my basic human values, my feelings, my conscience were so eroded by circumstances that I could say I didn’t care about the babies. How terrible it would feel to be alive if that happened.

This piece could go on to point out the ways that many, right here in this affluent country, don’t care about the babies, with babies as the broadest of metaphors, and all the ways the scene I heard from a foreign country is mirrored in rallies and marches and hateful language here in the US.  All of that is worth thinking about and responding to, but it is not the point that came home to me that day as I listened to the heart-rending story of the people pushing away the boats.

What struck me hard was compassion for the people who are so wounded by their circumstances that they don’t care about the babies. I asked myself what it would feel like to be those people and the answer was it would be hell, it would be worse than dying, it would make me not want to live.

Care about the babies, please do care.  But care also for the ones who cannot care about the babies. We cannot make a peaceful world, a just and kind world, without that compassion.  And we should be aware that, some time, some horrible time, it could be ourselves in need of that compassion.

Elaine Learnard
Conscience Bay Friends Meeting




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