Compassion

 Walking through Seattle streets this summer. Such a beautiful city. The antique brick architecture juxtaposed with its eclectic (and sometimes eccentric) modern culture. The ever-bustling Puget sound, the way the sun falls blazing behind snow-capped mountains, the cool stillness of western air.

A bucket list item: to buy fresh flowers from Pike Place Market. This place . . . so overwhelming in the best possible way. The colors, the smells, the sounds, the halls carpeted with a fragrant Pacific Northwestern meadow: peonies, poppies, sweet peas.

To smell a sweet pea is to smell heaven.

I hand a woman at a flower stand 10 dollars and parade this bucket list bouquet through the city. Then, I see him. His skin is grey and translucent. That’s what I remember most. His sign: AIDs patient. Anything helps.

I don’t have any more cash, or food, or anything really. Except this bouquet of flowers at my hip. I am compelled to stop.

“Do you want these, sir?”

I’m sure he’s been offered flowers before in this city. I am not sure if they will do him any good or anything at all.

“Thank-you,” he said. He took them.  He smiled down at the flowers, then at me, for a second. I can’t stop thinking about him, even now.

A day later, at a street-side cafe over prosciutto pizza. I can see the Space Needle from my seat. Tiny flowers adorn the middle of the table. A friendly dog sits to my left, accompanying two women chatting loudly. About a dog. Named Jack. Who passed away suddenly. I tried really hard to ignore them, but my emotions overwhelm me. Kind of like the time my dad was at a bar, and a man asked about his dog-chewed hat– he cried, too. How does losing a dog precipitate years of grief?

I ask the waitress for the bathroom. She looks at my tear-stained cheeks.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” Her tattooed arm reaches for my shoulder.

I usually loathe being called sweetie by strangers. I am too busy stuffing my sobs to notice.

“I heard the people beside me talking about a dog named Jack who died. My dog named Jack died 2 years ago. It just . . . made me remember him. And miss him.”

This woman– pierced all over, tattooed all over, compassionate all over– embraces me– a stranger from another coast.

“I am really sorry for your loss. Dogs are better than people are. And I believe they go to heaven.”

I write this because I believe people can be better. We can treat each other better, and we can put our rash judgments aside. We can protect the least of these, we can show compassion to strangers no matter their views. Reach out.

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!”

Hebrews 13:2

 

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