Conversations about differences are happening regularly around my house these days. We talk about differences between religions. Cultures. Political views. And the often wildly differing opinions about all of the above. No topic is off limits.
In all of these conversations, someone almost always asks, “Where does compassion fit in?”
And one day last week, an answer came from an unlikely place: a broken sidewalk.
My daughter Emily didn’t see the cracked concrete until it was too late. One wrong step landed her face down. Two strangers stopped and helped her to her feet. She took a few shaky steps before she fainted. She’s not sure if she hit her head the first time she went down or the second, but when she came to, she was surrounded by three more strangers urging her to be still while one of them called an ambulance. Another stranger stopped his car, rolled down the window and handed out a stack of napkins to help stop the blood flowing from her nose and mouth.
(Quick update: Emily is fine! And she gave me permission to share her story.)
Later, sitting in her hotel room with ice on her sprained ankle, three stitches in her mouth, a swollen nose, and miscellaneous scrapes and bruises, we talked over the phone about all the different people who kindly helped that day. And all of the information she was asked to share.
So many people with so many questions!
From the passersby: “Are you ok?” “Can I help you?”
The 9-1-1 operator: “Is the person conscious?” “Bleeding?” “Breathing ok?”
The EMT’s who arrived on the scene: “What’s your name?” “Are you on any medications?” “Have you eaten anything today?” “Do you want us to call someone?”
Without a doubt, the help Emily needed required answers to dozens of questions. But to our delight we realized that the kindness and generosity she received came without answers to some significant unasked questions.
The unasked questions of everyday compassion.
Throughout the ordeal, no one asked Emily her religion, her vote for president, if she had recently marched or protested, or for her opinion on immigration, education or any other issue currently filling the airwaves and seemingly driving people apart.
Because in the moments following her accident, none of those things mattered. What mattered was compassion.
Compassion with no agenda. No political view or opinion. No concern for race, religion, or nationality. Compassion simply offered as the human response to pain and suffering. It’s what connects us and reminds us that we belong to each another.
In the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37, Jesus describes a scene where an injured traveler lies ignored on the side of the road until a man from another culture stops to assist him. Without asking questions, the Samaritan “takes pity on him” and gives the injured man the help he needs.
Maybe like me, you’ve seen yourself in this story as the one who would (or should) stop to help. But when Emily fell, she found herself in the role of one lying injured hoping for someone to help her. And it didn’t matter at all how different those people were from her or one another. What mattered is that they took the time to see themselves as Good Samaritans. The ones who stopped to give assistance. No questions asked. In spite of their differences. Or maybe because of them.
We all have differences that can seem insurmountable.
But sometimes our differences help us understand what it means to be vulnerable. And when we reach across the issues that divide us, offering and receiving compassion in the midst of our pain and differences, we discover the truth that unites us: We need each other.
I don’t pretend to understand how compassion will fit into all the differences we face in our lives today. I only know that somehow it must. And I sure am grateful that one day last week it happened to fit into a cracked sidewalk in Seattle.
Where might God be inviting you to reach across differences that divide you from others? And how might you give and receive more compassion when you do?