Finding compassion in the blinking


By Kathy Berken

I will always say that it’s the little things that matter most, but it just seems that every moment of every day lately has been one big thing!

However, as I write this, it’s mid-October, and there has been an avalanche of activity in the little-things department in my life lately. Yesterday, my 2-year-old granddaughter Isabelle and I celebrated my daughter Erica’s 43rd birthday by making her favorite Spanakopita and her favorite marble cake using as many colors as were left in the food-dye box. When Isabelle accidentally dropped an egg on the floor, I became frustrated, so she immediately patted me on the arm and in the sweetest voice, said, “That’s okay, grandma. That’s okay.” One little thing.

When I went for my regular bone scan for my osteoporosis, I glanced at the people in the waiting room with me and thought, “Look at all of these old people!” Then I thought about the fact that I’m 71! Instead of taking out my phone as I often do, I just sat and studied the people waiting to hear their name called. Just about everyone who got up used either a cane or a walker or walked with a limp.


Then a man walked in who caught my eye. He had a long gray unkempt beard, long bushy hair, wore an ill-fitted jacket and what looked like flowered pajama pants. He also wore a small cross-body purse with gold embellishments that added to my wondering about what was going on in his life. As he stood at the check-in desk, the receptionist asked for his insurance and ID. He began to fumble with his bag and said, “I can’t. I’m in too much pain right now.” The receptionist immediately said, “No problem, just tell me your address and phone. I’ll look it up.” He said thanks, and added that he had a kidney stone and had never felt this much pain. Before asking for his information, she told him she had a kidney stone once and could definitely empathize. He seemed to relax a little. Their connection seemed holy.

Later in the day, I saw a story on Facebook that was an open letter to “The man in the car at the corner of Fisk and Mason last night.” The writer was in a car behind him, waiting at a red light. She wanted the public to know what she had witnessed. It was raining, at night. The man got out of his car at the light and walked quickly to the curb where a woman sat on the seat of a walker.

With all the news about random violence, my stomach began to form a knot. The story continued. The writer reported that she witnessed the man open his umbrella and hand it to the woman with the walker. The smile on the woman’s face was radiant and filled with joy. The writer just wanted everybody to know about this man’s compassion and kindness.

That story certainly had a different ending from what I imagined. By the end, it felt so good to know that wonderful people like the umbrella man exist in the world! Some days it feels to me as if the only stories I see shared on social media are those of anger, violence, hatred, abuse and things that cause me to feel afraid, sad and depressed.

I believe we are made in the image and likeness of a loving God. We are, in the deepest part of our souls, good, kind and generous people. From what I observe, we all want the same things in life, regardless. So now, I’m going to make a sign to hang on my door that I will see every time I go out: “First, be kind.”

(Kathy Berken is a spiritual director and retreat leader in St. Paul, Minnesota. She lived and worked at The Arch, L’Arche in Clinton from 1999-2009.)

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