Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2012 Nancy Virden
About five years ago, a very generous friend of my son’s gave him a sound system for his car. When the woman next door observed a familiar young man looking in the vehicles where my son’s car was parked, she decided not to say anything. Soon, the driver’s window was smashed, and the new sound system, gone. Our neighbor used the all-too-common excuses: it is none of my business; I don’t need the trouble; and I don’t want to get involved.
Many heroic stories flowed out of Boston’s tragedy during the Boston Marathon this week. The police officer who brought milk to a family under lockdown, and two men who grabbed a chair and ran, carrying a bystander who had lost both his legs, come to mind. Why were these people willing to risk their safety for strangers?
Thirty years ago, I and a friend attended our hometown July fourth fireworks show. As can be expected, leaving the park was much slower than entering it. As traffic crawled toward the exit, ahead the line was splitting into two rows. Eventually we saw a single car had stopped, forcing everyone to go around.
Ten minutes passed from reaching the point of seeing the car to pulling up alongside it, a distance of about forty feet. A woman was sitting inside, unmoving, her head leaning back against the headrest, eyes closed.
I said, “I wonder if she is ok? Maybe she is hurt?”
“She’s fine,” came the response.
“I think we should check,” I said.
“No, mind your own business.”
There was a decision to be made. Hundreds of cars were passing this woman, everyone had plenty of time to find out if she was fine. I questioned my judgement; maybe I was supposed to stay out of it? Maybe there was some unspoken rule everyone but me knew? My friend thought I should stay put, and as a teenager I cared what friends thought.
Then it occurred to me. If we passed blindly by, the next day I would be scouring the news to see if an emergency had been reported at the park. If she was ill and rescue was slow, God forbid too slow, then I would always wonder what I could have done, and carry guilt.
At that point the decision was simple. I could not ignore the scene before my eyes. Foolishness or not, it was me I would have to face in the mirror in the morning.
Jumping out of our stationary car, I knocked on her window. She jumped, and smiled. “Are you OK?” I asked.
“Yes, just resting! Thanks for checking, I’m OK.”
Embarrassment came into play. Not only had I made a fool of myself in front of my friend, but also in plain view of who-knows how many people. Self-conscious, something deeper inside felt satisfied and at peace. All these years later, I remember that scene with a clear conscience. There are no regrets.
However, I looked at my friend differently and lost some respect for that person who I thought had been cowardly and apathetic. Since then there have been times I did not choose to act, and feel ashamed of myself as well.
Running interference protects your own heart. You have to live with you. How my neighbor feels behind her wall of disinterest, is unknown. I am certain the heroes in Boston can look themselves in the mirror today and know they did their best.
Compassionate love is self-sacrifice sometimes, nonetheless it allows for freedom from guilt and preserves self-respect.
Courage answers the call to “love your neighbor.”*
NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.