on compassion…

termites ate this wood for lunch before it became a tabletop in a restaurant…

I have always been a very compassionate person. I was just born that way, and having had a lifetime of physical challenges has only reinforced my empathy for others. Yesterday it was sorely tested, leaving me today questioning how much compassion is good for one’s soul? When have we maxed out on compassion and gone into full on survival mode? And what does that mean for survival of our species?

Yesterday was Easter and a beautiful, albeit windy spring day in San Francisco. We met our kid and took rapid transit, aka BART into the city to see an art exhibit and have brunch. We often park at her house in the East Bay and take BART to the city and to the airports. It is always an interesting social experiment but yesterday it was full-on crazy train. Hubs thought it was because it was the weekend that it was more crazy, but our daughter reassured us that this is her daily commute; and is it little wonder she is angry by the time she arrives at work each day?

On the return trip we had to take three flights of stairs into the subway because the elevator reeked of urine. The escalators were turned off, for some unknown reason. The trains are less frequent on weekends, so we boarded a full train. No one stood up to let this aged body have a seat. I spotted a stuffed monkey suspended over an otherwise empty seat, so I headed for it not quite reaching as the train sped off. I flew backwards with the forward-moving train, landing on my back, spewing swear words at the possibly 5 yr old girl, dressed in her Easter finery, at whose feet I landed.

No one offered to help me up. My kid asked three tech-obsessed men to help me up which they reluctantly did. Still no one offered me a seat. My kid asked another ‘gentleman’ for his seat. Grumble, huff and he stood up.

Still the stuffed monkey retained his seat. Finally she asked whose monkey this is and if it belonged to no one, she was throwing it off the train? A man in a Stanford sweatshirt, lurched forward, grabbed his monkey, and shoved it into a duffel with other stuffed animals. OK. It was going to be that kind of day.

It got worse. A guy shouted at her, wondering why I did not hold on, when I fell? Maybe he could educate me about it, as folks often do after I fall. An obese male shoved food into his mouth from baggies, throwing the wrappings on the floor. As we got off to change trains, he dropped something on the track, halting in the doorway & blocking the exit. My daughter asked him to move and he let off a string of obscenities at her echoing throughout the station. I wanted to say no one talks to my daughter like that, but I was hardly in a position to defend anyone; plus she is nearly 40 and can defend herself, and did so by yelling back at him!

We got on the transfer train. A homeless guy with three huge bags of cans kept shaking them, and putting the filthy bags on the seat, where a person could otherwise sit. Another homeless woman took up a full seat, the floor and blocked the door with her few possessions. A dude walked through the car hawking CDs. Five young athletic men got on at a stop, turned up the loud music, began acrobatic moves along the horizontal and vertical bars of the train in motion, imploring folks to smile. They were very gifted, and had obviously honed their skill on moving train cars. They pandered for tips before departing at the next station.

At this point I was wondering what else, who else would wander onto this rolling mental asylum? At what stop had my compassion left the train? I only wanted off and immediately. I swore I would never ride again, but that is hardly the solution to traffic woes and reducing my carbon footprint.

Things I have thought about today…how does one show compassion for those less fortunate, mentally and physically without losing their own mind? There is just so much neediness. No wonder we isolate ourselves, in our homes, in our communities, in our cars, in our country.

Today I hurt, a lot, in parts I didn’t know I had. I will heal, I will get over it. I don’t know if I will ever adjust though to the sad state of our society. I really do not want to become one of them…you know, those people, the ones who refuse to see or feel, or care.

I suppose there is a quilt in that.


6 Responses to “on compassion…”

  1. Helen Johnston says:

    Carol, so sorry you were injured. My daughter used to live in the bay area also, and I rode BART into the city a lot. I know of what you speak.

    I have thought about compassion a lot for the last couple of years since the current administration seems to espouse so little of it. Perhaps readers of your blog can come up with quilts-challenge?

  2. Natalya says:

    I am so sorry you had such a rough day! I don’t understand people these days…. truly I do not…. Please do make that quilt!!

  3. Nancy Lemke says:

    Your post reminded me of fears I’ve experienced on public transportation. I’m troubled that I go into the “them and us” mode that is already too evident in this country. I’m thankful for Uber.

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