Warm, fluffy adjectives bounce right off me. If my loved ones or acquaintances had to describe me, “compassionate” would not be one of the first ten words out of their mouths. (I’m saved from looking like a complete heel because they all know I’m a sucker for furry, doe-eyed animals like puppies and ponies.)
Don’t get me wrong, I love people. But most of my life I’ve done it from a distance, and I’ve made my fair share of snarky remarks about people who had problems I didn’t think I could relate to – anything from, say, drug addiction to an affinity for Kanye-style shutter shades.
If there’s one thing I’ve gotten out of recovery so far, it’s compassion. Turns out: just because you suffer from X and I suffer from Y, we have something deep in common. And even if you wear stupid sunglasses, I can still find something of myself in you.
So when Tiger Woods took all that heat a few months back, I’m not kidding, my heart sort of broke for him. The older you get and the more habitual your bad behaviors become, the harder it is to get out. I can only imagine how long the guy must have known he was trapped and desperate, and possibly, genuinely afraid of himself.
I ran across a trailer for the new A&E show, Hoarders. Hoarding has gained attention lately; there are other TV shows and I’ve noticed an increase in articles about the compulsion. As I understand it, and please correct me if I’m wrong, it’s a mental condition that makes people emotionally unable to throw anything away. Carnival prizes, college reports, magazines from 1992, appliances that are rusted over – it all stays, filling up their homes so that most of them can’t have company because they are too ashamed and because there isn’t room to sit anyway.
I was in a house like that once, visiting a relative of some guy I was seeing. The place was phenomenal: her living room was literally a single walkway between five-foot stacks of papers, boxes, dusty knick knacks, flea-bitten blankets. Every room was always in the shadow of its own junk. There was literally no place in the house to sit except for this woman’s bed, which didn’t look like it had ever had its sheets changed. I stood uncomfortably for a very long time, and after a while I was so turned off that I gave up friendly conversation.
At the time, I didn’t understand my own deep-rooted obsessions and I certainly had no way of understanding that this woman was probably in significant emotional trouble. I still don’t get it – why anyone would want to burden themselves with a lifetime of useless stuff, just like I don’t really get the appeal of cheating with X amount of women of questionable cleanliness. But still, I get it, you know? I can identify some of the same sad, dark stuff inside of a poor, sick old woman and inside of a wealthy celebrity athlete and inside of me. I’m 24 and a little mixed up, but this is the first year of my life that I’ve been able to have heartfelt compassion for two people so different from me.
I find myself less prone to anger and revulsion because of compassion. And two steps closer to love.