Contagious Compassion


“Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.”
-Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Most of us would agree that we always feel better when we reach out to others instead of focusing only on ourselves.

One such person who would agree with that feeling is the man whose wife had recently died. He was inconsolable. He took flowers to her grave every day. He consulted a therapist who counseled him for three months. One day the analyst saw the flowers the man had brought to his session and the counselor said, “Today, I don’t want you to go to place those flowers on your wife’s grave. I want you to go to Saint John’s Hospital down the street and go into each room and give a flower to the patient you find there.” The next week, the man came to his session in an elated state. “I had a wonderful time giving those flowers away. Those people appreciated them so much and I made so many friends. I can’t stay today for my session since I’m going back to visit the new friends I met.” By involving himself compassionately in the lives of those hospital patients, this man found his grief fading away. Not only did he give away those flowers, but also he gave away himself as well. We always feel better when we reach out to others. It was out of his overwhelming grief that this man reached out to others with compassion and it was life-changing for all concerned.

Such a reaching out even affected a whole community. It happened because of a woman who lived in a small village in France. Trained as a nurse, she devoted her life to caring for the sick and the needy. After many years of kind and selfless service to the village’s families, the woman died. She had no family of her own, so the villagers planned a beautiful funeral for her, a fitting tribute for the woman to whom so many owed their lives. The parish priest, however, pointed out that, since she was a Protestant, she could not be buried in the town’s only graveyard – a Roman Catholic cemetery. The villagers protested, but the priest held firm. The decision was not easy for the priest either, for he, too, had been cared for by the woman during a serious illness. But the Canon Law of the Church was very clear; she would have to be buried outside – not inside – the fence of the cemetery. The day of the funeral arrived, and the whole village accompanied the woman’s casket to the cemetery, where she was buried – outside the cemetery fence. But that night, a group of the villagers, armed with picks and shovels, crept into the cemetery. They then quietly set to work – and moved the fence!

Out of their mutual love for a person who had been so much a part of their lives, this village reached out to others with compassion and “moved the fences” to include an outsider and it was life-changing for all concerned. The little village was transformed into a loving community, united in its need for one another and brought together by their love for one who had been so much a part of their lives.

We do not have to be our brother’s keeper. That stance often has been patronizing and demeaning. But we do have to be our brother’s brother or sister, as the case may be. We need to look into the faces of those who need to be loved, of those who need compassion, and receive them and embrace them in love.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke the truth when he said: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”


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