On a busy Saturday morning, Dad and his five-year-old son Martin made a bargain: If Martin behaved himself while Dad ran some errands at the home improvement store, Dad would take Martin to a movie.
But the deal quickly fell apart. Martin began to pout and whine as soon as he and Dad walked into the store, making it impossible for Dad to get anything done.
“I don’t think you’re holding up your end of the bargain, buddy,” Dad said. “We had a deal. Remember?”
The little boy nodded tearfully.
Dad noticed that Martin’s shoelaces had come undone and knelt down to tie them. Martin sniffled and grasped the sleeve of his father’s sweatshirt, holding on. While Dad was still on his knees, he noticed the chaos around them: Shoppers nudged and pushed one another in an effort to get through the aisles; an hysterical mother called out for a lost child; a display of boxed items tumbled to the floor because a distracted customer wheeled a cart into it. And poor Martin kept getting hit in the shoulders and head with purses and bags as people brushed passed him.
From that vantage point, Dad realized how overwhelming and terrifying all of this chaos was to a five-year-old. He felt badly for not having been more sympathetic to his son’s plight and realized that Martin had been a champ in trying to brave his way through it all.
Shoes tied, Dad lifted up Martin and placed him on his shoulders. “Hey, buddy, what do you say we get out of here and do this shopping some other time?”
“Are you sure, Daddy?” Martin asked, trying to gauge why the plan was changing.
“Yup. Positive. Let’s go to that movie.”
The Dominican theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart preached that “Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion.”
Compassion is the ability and the willingness to enter the chaos, the pain, and the story of another. It is all about putting oneself in the place of someone like Martin: to see the world from their perspective, to see what scares them, to understand their fears, to embrace their pain.