I am always amazed at the huge capacity of some people to feel pity, sympathy, and concern for the misfortunes and sufferings of others. They possess what I call “compassionate hearts.” If you have ever been bullied or harassed, then you may understand better what I mean by the term. Remember that person who stood up for you when everyone turned their backs and pretended that they did not see the abuse, or that brave girl or boy, or woman or man, who became your friend when everyone else shunned you? They demonstrated what is becoming a rarity today: a strong desire to alleviate the sufferings of others.
A compassionate heart exhibits sympathy, sensitivity to the needs of others, love, kindness, and the ability to see the humanity of every human being. When you are the recipient of this type of fellow feeling, you never forget that moment when another human being steps up to defend you or to embrace you, for it is at those moments when you come face-to-face with God. You know that you are not alone, and you can sense that you are once again connected to the rest of humanity.
Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual sufferings can result in such loneliness, including feelings of isolation and desolation. So, when another human being comes into your sufferings offering love and dispelling the loneliness, it is a time of greatest joy. I want to share one of those times in my life, and it is my hope that in disclosing this story, that more people will open their hearts to others, demonstrating what is so needed today in the world: compassionate hearts.
I have been an introvert most of my life, and it was no different in high school. I believe that I might have been more of an extrovert if I had not been bullied and taunted so much. I say that because I love hearing the stories of other people’s lives. Just ask my students, for they learned quickly that if they had a full schedule of activities, they should not come to my office, because I would keep them talking for hours.
The conversations were always about them, though, never about me. It was my way of letting them know that I saw their humanity and that I understood that every person needs to feel that they are important enough for others to recognize their troubles, empathize, and do something to alleviate their pain. That was what I received at a school dance when I was in high school.
One of my friends when I was in high school was my opposite, meaning that everywhere we went, people knew her and the guys just could not keep away from her. She loved going to the school dances, and it bothered her that I did not want to attend them. She didn’t want to go with one boy, because she wanted to dance with as many boys as possible, without all the drama that accompanies jealousy. I, on the other hand, refused to go with her because I was never asked to dance, as my nick name, Little Monster, meant that boys kept their distance. But, on one occasion she insisted that I join her, stating that I was taking things too seriously and that I just needed to “loosen up.”
As the music played, I watched all of the other girls get asked for dances. I thought that maybe some of the boys there may not attend our school and know about my nickname, and I would get at least one dance before someone made them aware of who I was and why it was better for their reputations that they not dance with me again. But, alas, that did not happen. So, as I did at other dances, I found a corner to sit in until my friend was ready to go.
I so wanted to dance, and back in the 1960s, teen-aged girls did not go out on the dance floor alone, flouncing around solo. That would have been even more embarrassing. What I needed was a good book to read to make the hours fly by, but it was too dark in the gym anyway for reading. So, I just stood, looking hopeful any time a boy seemed to be walking towards me, but, inevitably, they were after the girl standing near me. So, as the night progressed, I gave up any hope of “shaking my groove thing, yea, yea.” But, I got to tell you, I really, really, really wanted to dance!
I was not praying for a miracle, mainly because I would not have thought that not having a dance partner was a problem that God needed to resolve. But, I believe that when we have such a deep desire in our hearts for something, that God sees and intervenes on our behalf, just as if we were praying for it. As I stood there watching, my cousin, Lionel, came into the dance.
Lionel was from the “rich” part of the family, and his father, my dad’s oldest brother, worked and took care of his family. Lionel lived with both of his parents, a rarity in my family, and they lived in a beautiful house on the best side of town. We never interacted with their family, as my mother had nothing to do with her family or my father’s family, so I did not really know Lionel except by sight.
He had all the things in his life that I wanted, including a father who loved him. I always wanted his dad to adopt me, so that I could live in a brick house, have my own bedroom, and could dress well. Lionel and I would sometimes say hello as we passed each other in the hallways at school, but that was the extent of our communication and interactions. I don’t think anyone at school even knew I was related to him.
I do not how he came to see me standing alone in the darkest part of the gym, trying to become as invisible as possible, so that I would not be the laughingstock of the whole school that next week. But, after he had danced a few times, he must have noticed that I was not dancing at all. So, this wonderfully brave guy walked over and asked if I wanted to dance.
I was totally shocked, and I said something like, “Oh yes, please!” We went out on the dance floor, and through three dances, I laughed and enjoyed myself to the hilt. I did the all the dances of that time, such as the twist, the swim, the funky chicken, the jitterbug, and anyone who saw me must have marveled at the joy on my face to just let go and have fun. It was a moment that touched my very soul and I never forgot the compassion that my cousin showed me that night.
Lionel demonstrated a compassionate heart. He saw my suffering, and he was determined to alleviate my pain. I think that he saw how much I wanted to dance, and he was not alone. The boys who came toward me to ask other girls to dance sometimes looked at me so sadly and guiltily, for they could see or sense my hopefulness and the pain when I was passed over.
I understood, though, that self-preservation always been the first law of nature, and this was more so in high school. I recognized that those boys had good reasons to worry that if they asked me to dance, for their whole lives at school would have been awful. That my cousin was able to not care about what other people thought and dance with his younger cousin was a tremendous act of compassion and concern for another human being. As I danced, wildly flapping my hands and shaking me backside, I finally felt like a member of the human race. That is what people with compassionate hearts do: they restore our humanity.
In Exodus 34: 5-7, as God described Himself to Moses, it states, “Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with him; and he called out his own name, Yahweh. The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out,“Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.”
Because we are told that we are made in God’s image, compassion and unfailing love for others is part of our spiritual DNA. Demonstrating a compassionate heart in the world for the poor, the lost, the hurting, the motherless child, the orphan, the hungry widows, and anyone who feel isolated and alone is what we are called to do, whether you are a believer or not.
Lionel’s kindness, sympathy, and pity for my misfortune and suffering left a life-long impression on me. Just knowing how joyful it made me to be acknowledged and loved taught me that I must always do whatever I can to give that same love and joy to others. It is why I try to be sensitive to the needs of others, looking to see if there is anyone in the room that no one else is talking to, or if there is a child that no one else is interacting with. I try to always keep an eye out for the “Regina” in the room.
The popular people do not need any more admirers. Instead, it is the person, child or adult, that is ignored and overlooked that needs to be accosted. It is the man begging for a meal that needs his humanity acknowledged by a simple, “How are you today,” before we take him and buy him a good meal. It is the lonely woman who lives alone in our community that needs to be invited to join us for a cup of coffee.
Let us today open our hearts to others, letting go of the differences that tend to separate us, opening our eyes and really seeing the humanity of others, recognizing that they are human beings like us with the same need for validation and hope that comes from a sense of connection with the rest of humanity. We need compassionate hearts and I am recruiting you.