Un-politicizing our Compassion

Todd Palin, the First Gentleman of Alaska, was injured pretty badly in a snowmobile accident. Did anyone hear this? It happened maybe two days ago. His wife, Sarah Palin, posted this on Facebook a few hours after it happened:

“Todd Palin is in intensive care at an Alaskan hospital with injuries including multiple broken and fractured ribs, broken shoulder blade, broken clavicle, knee/leg injuries; and a collapsed lung. He is presently back in surgery to repair multiple fractures. Thank you for your prayers for a speedy recovery. We, as his wife and children, appreciate your respect for our privacy during this time. Knowing Todd, once he’s cognizant, he’ll probably ask docs to duct tape him up and he’ll call it good. He’s tough.

Photo of Todd Palin, from CNN

His injuries required six hours of surgery, mostly to repair bones. I’m not a Sarah Palin fan and I hope she’s never elected to U.S. public office, but I can sympathize. It is a horrible feeling to have a person you love 5,000 miles away. It’s even worse when you get one of those phone calls. Your stomach twists. Why weren’t you there? Maybe a word or action could have changed fate.

The outpouring of people-being-nice, at least on the comments section of Facebook, have overwhelmed any kind invective that may have been there. Just to check, I read the first thousand comments. Every single one. Sometimes I can be proud of humanity. Lots or prayers and well wishes. One lady said “Shame on you — you should have been with your husband instead of in Florida with that Mr. Trump”. One invited Sarah to get her hair cut in her sister’s salon if she ever comes back to Alabama. But the rest were on point. Compassion. That’s what I’m talking about today.

Last August, the day after my son’s birthday, a disgruntled ex-journalist opened fire on former colleagues during a live broadcast in southern Virginia, killing them and injuring the person they were interviewing. Do you remember when this happened?

My high school friend Jeff Brady, also a reporter, posted a weblink to the incident at a major news source. The very first comment to his post was a sarcastic eyeroll from a reader. “Looks like all that gun control is sure working out well!” or something to that effect. I didn’t write the comment, but I could have. I readily admit that my mind went there too. My brain blew past compassion–past the real heart of the issue–and examined the political ramifications.  How would NRA react? How do I feel about the people who don’t agree with my take on the issue of gun ownership? Do I want to slap their smirky little heads?

But Jeff’s rebuke was swift, elegant and unbiased. Within a couple minutes, he said “You’re missing the point. I posted this because two colleagues were shot and killed. Please remember them before engaging in inflammatory discourse.” Jeff dropped my angry political rhinoceros with a single shot.

Eventually Jeff deleted the post because people were still polarized, and still missing the point. Therefore I couldn’t link to it just now, and I had to reconstruct from memory the quotes in the past couple paragraphs. I was ashamed, you know. Jeff was right. Why wasn’t I thinking of the people first, and the crime second? Why was I worried about guns just then? Why should I care if the government is stomping on my rights when three people are dead? I can do that kind of thinking later. The old proverb tells us guns don’t kill people. They’re right. Guns also feel no compassion. That’s our job. And we don’t do it enough.

Someone reminded me today that this year has been named The Year of Mercy by the Vatican. I’m not Catholic, but I can get behind such a thing. Here’s the statement from their website:

During this special period of time in the Church, Pope Francis calls all Catholics to be profound witnesses to mercy and to “find the joy rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time.”

Comfort? To every man and every woman? What if I don’t like them? What if they smell? What if their political agenda smells? Who does that?

JB and Bike
JB and the stolen bike. I’m assuming the guy on the left was the original owner and not the thief.

Well, John Brent does, for one. Another high school friend, John recently found a stolen bike and returned it to its owner. John’s a cop in a Portland suburb. We think of cops as doing more important things in the course of their day, while stolen bikes get shuffled to the bottom of the pile on their desk. It’s low hanging fruit like the neighbor’s dog barking or “raccoons in my trash can again, officer!” I’m proud of him for making people in Oregon happier and safer, one person at a time. In fact, isn’t that what we all should do at our jobs?

This blog is a reminder for me. If you want to come along on the ride, that’s fine too, but I don’t want you to get the impression that I’m lecturing anyone. I just sometimes notice where my own inadequacies lie and I need to remind myself to not be a big giant asshole. Thanks for the lessons in compassion, Jeff. Also, John. Also (I never thought I’d say this) Sarah. I try to remember that our opportunities to be nice, and to avoid all the bullshit, appear quite often. It’s up to us to be brave enough remember them.


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