On 20th February 2015, bloggers from across the globe wrote and posted pieces about compassion in a drive to flood the Internet with messages of kindness and positivity.
Today is 21st February. A day late and dollar short, here’s my little contribution to the wave of compassion.
About a week ago, I was queueing at the checkout in our local Aldi store. Boy (my 2 yr old whirlwind) was screaming in his pushchair, Melon (my 5 yr old autistic daughter) was darting back and forth across the store overwhelmed by the business and packaging, unable to focus on any instruction I gave her. We hadn’t slept in three days courtesy of the autism-relate sleep problems that are a BIG feature of life in our household.
As my bleary eyes drifted across the chaos, my focus settled on the man behind me. Maybe in his 50’s, maybe older, maybe even younger. It was hard to tell – unshaven, dishevelled, crumpled, trembling, not making eye contact, clutching at a large bottle of strong cider like his first-born child, as though his life depended on it. Which it probably did. It was 9.30am, The stench of alcohol seeped out of him and drifted to where I was standing. Other customers gave him a wide berth, avoided looking at him. He was less than them, less human. He seemed oblivious to it all.
I work in the addictions field, I see everyday people whose lives are torn apart by alcohol and substance dependency. I hear their heartbreaking back stories, I try to help them find their way back. Over the noise form Boy and my monitoring of Melon, I tried to looked at the man behind me through curious, compassionate eyes. Who was he? Did he have family? Did he have dreams – now or ever? Was his health suffering? His liver? Was he getting treatment, did he even care? What went wrong to lead him here to a budget supermarket at 9.30am sweating and clutching a bottle of the one thing that he KNEW would stop the shaking?
Then the queue inched forward and I realised I hadn’t unloaded my shopping or left my basket in the correct place. Not usually an issue, but the checkouts at Aldi are cramped fast-moving places, Boy was still screaming and Melon (who had drifted back to us) was trying to grab other people’s shopping items off the conveyor belt. My attention had wandered and chaos was temporarily upon us.
A voice said “they get under your feet sometimes don’t they? I’ll take that for you”. I turned to the man behind me, still shaking, still with the scent of alcohol rolling off him, but making eye contact now and smiling. He helped me unload my items, took my basket and then wandered across the store to put it in the correct place. Giving up his place in the queue as he did so. “Thank you” I said at his retreating back. Don’t know if he heard me over the noise Boy was making. We paid, we packed, I couldn’t see the man any more. We left.
Compassion. Definitions say it is “the emotion that one feels in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help. Compassion is really the act of going out of your way to help physical, spiritual, or emotional hurts or pains of another”.
To me, compassion, to whatever extent we are able to express it, is part of what makes us human.
To the man behind me in the queue:
Whatever happened in your life, whatever went wrong, whatever you lost; however much you are shunned and isolated by strangers and friends as you muddle through your days; you alone noticed my small moment of struggle- you were kind, you helped.
For your small moment of compassion, Thank you.