Witnessing compassion can be an enduring experience

Tim Conlon /

Published Oct 24, 2013 at 05:00AM

The 2013 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is currently inventorying Syria’s chemical weapons caches. When the award was announced, a current events analyst questioned why Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani 16-year-old, didn’t receive the award.

Malala spoke publicly for girls’ education, and for that, was shot last year by the Taliban and came close to death.

Still, others say awarding the Peace Prize to Malala could have been problematic, because in impoverished and terrorized countries there are scores of courageous people. How can you single out one?

Not many of us can be as brave as Malala. But I suggest we all are capable of compassion for our fellow human, if not courage.

I dug around the coverage of the Syrian civil war and uncovered acts of compassion.

The Times of Israel published a story, “Israeli Compassion Amidst the Atrocities.” It reported the medical care Jewish doctors gave Syrian refugees in Safed, a town on the Syrian border. The word, “compassion” caught my attention. I’m not so naive to think President Barack Obama’s National Security Council would have an agenda item, “Prioritizing compassion as a unifying action to highlight nation-state atrocities.”

In my lifetime, America has been engaged in a major war six times. Too much money, power and male machismo are at stake to expect the war machines are going to be dismantled. But consider this alternative: Compassion is a tangible action demonstrating care for another. It prioritizes another’s need. Appreciating another’s needs would sweeten the world’s rancorous mood. Our leaders might consider official and more robust humanitarian initiatives parallel to saber rattling.

As I read about Jewish doctors healing Muslim children, the bumper sticker, “Think Globally-Act Locally,” comes to mind.

Here in Central Oregon we can’t eradicate the hatred in the Middle East, but we can consider compassion to examine local differences and resolve conflicts. For example, examine national immigration reform as applied to our Latino neighbors and the region’s economy.

Five years ago, during the memorial service of a Bend business owner, tales of the man’s compassion were related. His caring for others inspired me. The testimonials created a glorious mural of his lust for life; his ceaseless giving to others; his professional integrity; and his huge capacity to bond with our mountains, rivers and sunsets. Never have I seen so many men in one place cry so openly. I was not saddened, but inspired with what compassion can do to civilize our society. The upwelling of emotions triggered a memory when compassion snuck onto my tiny stage.

Many years ago, I was an officer on a U.S. Navy minesweeper. The ship was built of wood, to prevent it from exploding as it swept magnetically triggered mines. But the ship didn’t work. Packard Motors, a company that’s declared bankruptcy, built the frequently failing aluminum engines.

The demands of a ship that handled like a giant cork with faulty engines and other stress moved me to find sympathy among the non- commissioned officers. One NCO was Quartermaster Zambrano.

As he was transferred from the ship and went down the gangplank, he handed me a lighter embellished with the ship’s plaque. “Mr. Conlon, you don’t smoke. But carry this. There will be more days of impossible situations. Look at this and know you can handle anything.”

Even burned out, I recognized this was the simplest kind of compassion.

Since 1964, I find that I pay attention to little events — they can be all about compassion and acknowledgement of courage. I still have the Zambrano lighter.

Finally, reflect on another bumper sticker: “Practice Random Acts of Kindness.” Your small gesture of care can deliver compassion when most needed.

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