Four people were murdered last week off the coast of Somalia; American civilians cruising in hostile waters. Somali pirates are an organized criminal gang, taking hostages and sometimes killing their captives. These are hideous crimes, and if there were any justice in the world...
Then what? What would be just, and who am I to decide it? The primary motive for these actions appears to be ransom, but according to some analyses, there are deeper forces at play. The Somalis claim that European companies and governments are paying firms that use mafia connections and bribes to dump their toxic waste into the ocean just offshore of the Horn of Africa; there certainly seems to be some evidence to support these claims. If your fishing stocks are destroyed, your neighbors are dying of strange diseases, your babies are suffering terrible deformities and you think you know why but feel powerless to stop it, you might react in rage and frustration, too.
I have not done much research into this topic, and my intention here isn't to exonerate murderous thugs, but the least believable bad guys are usually those with no motive greater than their own malfeasance. It is easy to rush to retribution when a crime occurs, easier still when we can quickly assign an individual crooked will to the act. Perhaps this is why there is such a political will to find a body to put on trial whenever things begin to fall apart, lest anyone be inclined to look too deeply at the cultural institutions and systemic corruptions that lead to violence and disorder. And when the bad guy seems to be just bad luck, illness or accident, some of us flail around magnifying our misery in an attempt to assign blame. Is karmic justice only appealing when we think we will be rewarded for our goodness and our enemies will suffer in the next life? What happens when we hurt, do we critically examine our place in the cycle of suffering? Do we tend to pity, or to compassion?
I lay awake the night I read about the pirates' victims, searching for the gift. Compassion is not pity; to feel sorry for someone in his misfortune, and grateful not to be in his shoes, is to see myself as apart from his suffering. Compassion is to embrace another's misery, to redeem it within myself and to recognize that I am part of the peace and the war in the world; there is always more that I can give.
There have been hard times in my life; I wrote the following after one of them:
I don't need this story to be true, for it to be true.
In the eternity of my life there is another life. There is a life that requires redemption. It is a life full of misery and suffering and horrific violence and loss. It is a life of betrayal and cruelty. It is a life a woman, a mother, me, witnessing the wheeling of life's woes like ravenous raptors, greedy for a feast. It is a life of abandonment and pain.
Perhaps it is in the past. Perhaps it is in the future. Perhaps it is in all time, along with this life.
This life of joy and fulfillment. This life of reward, welling up, bursting into constant bloom unsought. A life of plenty. A life of motherhood and partnership and self-actualization, where blessings rain down in blinding squalls out of a crystal sky.
My son is aware of the other life. Perhaps he has lived it too. It is the journey of this life to redeem the other, to forgive and forgive, to carry its weight and leave peace in its wake. To be in this moment of plenty with grateful and gracious acknowledgment of pain. My son is teaching me, watching me, testing me at this task, still unsure if I will manage it. Will I manage it? Can I roll away the wheel and reveal the world, cleansed? It is not for escaping; there is no escape, but in presence it can be remade.
To this task do I apply myself, and in its effort there is only liberation.
If you would like to share your stories of compassion, experienced or expressed, please do.