Monday, October 31, 2011

My First Lesson in Compassion

Summer 1976

I was nine years old and my older brother and I were sitting on the front concrete walkway at home observing a line of ants. Well . . . we were maybe doing more than just observing the ants. In fact, mischievous youngsters that we were, it’s even possible that we were in possession of a magnifying glass at the time.

On this bright, hot summer day, my brother expertly maneuvered the magnifying glass to produce a small solid beam of havoc-wreaking sunlight. He was able to blast ants one after another, and by blast I mean kill. This meant instant death to each of these miniature social insects that was unfortunate enough to catch our attention. Impressed, I asked for an opportunity to wield the magnifying glass myself. He consented and handed over the instrument of destruction.

The magnifying beam emanating from my clumsy handling was not as crisp as I had seen him produce. Nor were the results as decisive as he had achieved. Turned out I was doing little more than punishing and crippling the ants, not killing them. Each ant I engaged became crippled up and writhed around in pain. It was an ugly scene I had orchestrated, even to these nine year old eyeballs. I was harshly damaging these little guys and it wasn’t right.

My brother leaned over the carnage-riddled mess, extended a finger and, one by one, squished the ants that I had assaulted, putting them mercifully out of their misery. “You don’t want to hurt ‘em,” he compassionately instructed while killing them.

And so it was that I learned compassion from my sensitive older brother.