When unexpected disaster occurs, we’re often caught at a loss for words. You can be driving the speed limit, minding your own business and in your own lane. Suddenly, someone runs a red light and careens into your vehicle hitting you head on. Aside from fractured ribs, a neck brace, whip lash, and a really sore back; you are lucky to get out alive.
You’re coming home from a dinner and a movie, still laughing as you recap the funniest scenes with your spouse. You open the door to discover that you’ve been robbed and all of your expensive electronics and jewelry are now gone. Little do you know that the thieves were escaping out the back window as your keys hit the front door lock, and they were armed with guns.
Your dog is like your own child, closer to you then most humans and definitely kinder. He doesn’t look well one day, you take him to the vet and you’re told that he has a tumor. The vet suggests that you should “put him down” because he’ll likely suffer and there’s really very little you can do. The tumor has spread and he’s in pain. You’re now faced with the most difficult task you’ll ever have to make.
It could even be you in the crosshairs. If you’re a woman you could be undergoing a breast examination, and your doctor finds a lump. Tests are run and, to your horror, it is malignant. You’re told you’ve got breast cancer and suddenly you’re faced with a whirlwind of doctor appointments, surgical options, chemotherapy and homeopathic cures. Friends and family are calling you, and all you want to do is bury your head under the covers, wake up and realize it was all just one big nightmare.
Or, you’re a man with symptoms of painful urination or having to go a little too much. You finally head to the doctor at the insistence of worried loved ones. You’ve never had a history of prostate cancer in your family, so you didn’t think it would ever happen to you. And of course the doctor makes that diagnosis; you’re now faced with utter fear. You Google your options, not waiting for the next doctor visit only to worry yourself sick with various treatment options: radiation, cryosurgery, chemo, vaccine, or bone directed and various hormone treatments.
Then there’s the tragedy that unfolded Thursday. You can be one of the family members of the 283 passengers and 15 crew members who were on board the doomed Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777. You might’ve just spoken to your loved one hours before they boarded Flight 17 in Amsterdam bound for Kuala Lumpur only then to hear about a tragic announcement. People are huddled around television screens. To your horror, the plane, your loved one’s plane, has crashed. Later its been confirmed that it was shot down over Eastern Ukraine near the Russian border by a surface-to-air missile. There are no survivors.
Maybe you have never experienced any of the above scenarios, and I hope you never do. But, meanwhile, others have had far too many close encounters with disasters, tragedy, illness and death. You might be sitting comfy in your sweats eating ice cream and watching the news, distantly musing over the dullness of your life. It could be that you’re never experienced any type of extreme situation, emergency, natural disaster or crisis. And just perhaps, you do have it pretty good compared to others.
While we may not know what it’s like to be in troubling situations, sometimes it’s good to really look inward and search for empathy and compassion for others. You might be a bit numb to the violence you hear of, all the shootings, wars, and various bad things constantly broadcasted on the 6 o’clock news. Though, without compassion we become cold and cynical. We decide we’ll ignore what is happening because it’s not happening to us. We decide that if it’s not affecting our world, then we don’t really bother. We can shrug it off because it’s not your mom or dad, sister, brother, or child. We go about our day drinking our latte’s and kicking back to watch our favorite flick.
Understanding that there is a world outside of ours, that there are people that suffer and have it worse, is a step towards understanding that selfishness is a terrible way to exist in life. Selfish, cold and apathetic cynicism causes people to discard the less fortunate, disaster victims and those struck with horrific tragedy. Americans have it better than most of the world. While, we’re not perfect, we do have much more freedom than so many and we often take the blessing we have for granted.
If you’re not having a bad day, then good for you. But, if you know someone who was just told some terrible news, maybe it’s good to just listen. Try putting yourself in their shoes and find it within yourself to see them through the eyes of compassion. The root of compassion is the will to help others, to live more than for yourself and to love without judgment. If you’re only focused on your own world, you miss an opportunity to reach out to those that could use kindness, empathy, and sincerity. When you live for more than yourself, you realize a type of happiness you’ve yet to experience. True joy comes from not what you get from the world, but what you give back.