When I was 12, I watched my 285-pound, 6’4″ father begin to sag and crumble like a rotting pumpkin. It took him 6 years to die.
It gave me plenty of time to wonder about what was eating him up inside.
I’m well aware of how difficult a practice of compassion can be. I may have a sort of intimacy with the things that make it hard. I have seen the opposite of compassion, and felt it within myself.
It might be “okay” for people to be wrong. Most of us can allow that.
But what about when they’re so wrong they’re dangerous? When their beliefs about the world put your family’s future in jeopardy?
When “they” are so wrong that they’re dangerous, we tend to cut off from people. We constrict. Anger and contempt feel entirely justifiable. Necessary, even.
Yet I have seen how they may sicken a person.
In the very marrow of his being, outrage ate my father up.
Quite literally, in his case.
He was a rational man, with a depth of understanding about how the world worked. He could fix most anything in a car or house. He could even make tools to affect the physical world.
The one time I remember him teaching me something without yelling, he brought me down to his workshop late at night and made an electromagnet by wrapping wire around a screwdriver. You could pick up a paperclip and drop it by disconnecting a 9-volt battery.
But he was a midwest firefighter with no tools for empathy. He feared the emotional world within himself, and had not learned that his beliefs might be based on his unique experiences.
His ideas of truth could only crush other beliefs or be trampled by them. He felt contempt for “those people,” the people whose wrong and stupid beliefs posed a threat to what was good and true.
To me, his bone cancer was more than a metaphor of “a terrible thing growing inside him and eating him up.”
Regardless of how his life ended, the struggle he fought did not require him to be “angry at God,” or angry at people. He just thought it did.
He often said: “I like people as they are not.”
He knew enough of himself to be honest about that.
He did not know he had a chance to value human beings without liking their worldviews. This lack of compassion brought him suffering for decades before he was sick.
I seek to discover what I can value in everyone, because it brings less suffering into the world, especially inside me.