26 February 2007

44. Compassion

Dear compassion,

When did you infect my brain?

Um, I write that like it's a bad thing, but really it's not. I just don't have a better way to express my surprise at the weird-but-good ways in which you manifest in my life — for instance, the event that inspired me to write this letter.

I was riding to work in the bike lane along a busy street, when a big, scary dog — a Rottweiler maybe? something bred to kill — lunged at me from the back of a parked truck, where it was tied up. I swerved, managed to stay out of traffic, was relieved to see that the dog couldn't reach me, and my next thought — a split second after "holy fucking shit run away watch out for cars" and "it's okay, it's chained up, I'm safe" — was "oh, that poor animal." Being tied up in the back of a truck next to a busy street with cars whipping by is not my idea of a good time. But that thought, that reflexive moment of empathy, completely overwhelmed my fight-or-flight response. I rode on in a daze, suddenly oblivious to the adrenaline coursing through my veins, marveling that I could go from "it's gonna kill me!" to "poor doggy" in far less time than it takes me to put those thoughts into words. That was when I started thinking about writing you.

Sometimes I feel like you and your friend, kindness, are in short supply in this world, compassion, and I know I'm often part of the problem. So it's okay if you've infected my heart, or my brain stem or whatever involuntary nerve cluster reacts even faster than my oh-so-verbal mind. For one thing, as stupid and clich├ęd as it may be to say, experiencing you makes me feel better about myself as a person, even if I'm frequently startled to find myself possessed by the better angels of my nature, so to speak. It's even oddly appropriate that I can't write you very articulately, since those possessions seem to be faster than the speed of words. Go ahead and grow inside me, compassion, not like a tumor but like an immunity to the ways in which I'm brought down by the world when the people in it suck. And please, feel free to replace that part of my brain that made me fill this letter with so many adverbs. Thank you for everything, especially good things to come.


Published 26 February 2007, title abridged 1 December 2011