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Wednesday, May 27, 2009


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Often I wonder about compassion, how to live with a compassionate heart in this world without shedding tears of sorrow every minute. I even wonder if the high rate of mood enhancing pills like prozac that indicates mass depression in our greater American culture might point to hearts having a difficult time repressing compassion for self-preservation. If depression is a result of repressed anger, my guess is some of the anger comes from living in a world with little room for compassion.

There are moments when compassion is ok, like singing a hymn in church, but the rest of the time it's not often a conscious issue, or even a consideration. On the way somewhere a squirrel runs under my tire. I feel the thump, look in the mirror and see the squirrel lying motionless on the road, its tail twitching up and down, indicating it's not dead, but paralyzed everywhere but its tail. I want to go back and run over it again to end its fear and agony lying there in the road unable to move, perhaps a broken back. I can't do that. I tell myself a pickup will come along and run over it. I stop a tear from running down my face and tell myself civilization did it, not me. Though a couple times I have killed with intent and it felt much worse. I've killed groundhogs, raccoons, possums, cats, dogs, squirrels, mice, rabbits, snakes that ran under a tire so quickly I didn't even have the time to let up on the gas pedal, let alone hit the brake.

I know I don't understand the divine plan for life on this earth. If I did, it wouldn't make me sad, perhaps to run over a rabbit that darts under my tire. Or maybe it would. I don't know. It made Jesus sad to see much that was going on around him. I tell myself I bear no guilt when I look in the rearview mirror at a bird that flew into the windshield fluttering on the road behind me, it's mate or friend flying down to it to assist, but it can't. I tell myself it's the nature of civilization and I'm as subject to its indifferent forces as the bird is, only I have the forebrain to help learn its ways.

Walking down the hallways of the nursing home, seeing the people in there, if I let my compassion go unchecked I'd be on my knees bawling before I made it to the room where my friend lies in bed staring at the wall. There are times we have to bear down on compassion welling up within just to make it through the day. Sometimes we have to just shut it down. But what happens to us within when we succeed in shutting it down? It can't be something we want for ourselves.

I don't want to give up compassion and I don't want to be depressed all the time either. I suspect the answer is in the Buddhist middle way. Perhaps an answer would be to understand what is on the other side of what we call death. If I were to alter what I believe about dying to see it as rebirth into the spirit world, which I really believe I believe it is, but evidently don't, a blessed happy moment to be free of the soul's shackles to the body, then it might be seen as a moment of joy when somebody's cat runs under my tire and I can't avoid it.

I can only think shutting the door to compassion is a major contributor to our national depression. It's not just Americans. We're in a time when a serious question we all face is whether to shut down our compassion or allow it, feel pain much of the time or join the statistic of the depressed. Roadkill is just one of many tugs at the heart we experience regularly, one we think of perhaps the least.

One day we see American jets bombing an Islamic city. Next day we see the scramble on the ground of gathering the dead, hear the cries of mothers and kids with legs blown off, see a father carrying his dead child, cursing the camera in a foreign language. The images flash by and are forgotten in a few seconds, but they assault the heart and they hurt inside if we allow them, so we don't allow them their power by shutting down caring. What does that do to us? Pop another prozac.

My suspicion is these qiestions are best answered by the individual for oneself and oneself only. I continue to search for my answers.

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