Compassion leaves the most visible and ineradicable scars on the hearts of those that remove the covers from their eyes. In almost every country, travellers go around with blinders on. The norm holds that what you don’t see can’t hurt you. We notice the grandeur of some magnificent structure, some piece of art, some sculpture or some long dead newly discovered edifice. We comment on the comfort of the hotels; we mention the access of convenience stores. We hover above reality as the journey up there is simply “so comfortable—almost like home.”
The truth is a far more restless road. Voices of despair create potholes on this road and the journey collects dents and sometimes irreparable punctures. Compassion gives the traveller far too many open wounds—reason enough to take an easier road.
It’s easy to overlook the distressed child standing in the shadow of the large luxury car, holding a baby in his outstretched arms to provoke shivers of compassion that send hands into pockets lined with banknotes. It’s easy to evade the wrinkled arms of ragged old women, tugging at your immaculate apparel to beg for food. It’s easy to notice the doors to the emergency exits; the mangled illuminate the aisles. Get down and look at what you have to run over in your haste to get out.
Under a house children are being kept with no food; nearby their relatives are letting their hair down, bottle in one hand, pack of cards in the other. A child nears the end of its life while the adults play. Creatures scrabbling in the sewage, on closer look, turn out to be real-life children—although the word “life” has no meaning to them. Of such is the Kingdom of The Unseen.
Compassion clears eyes clouded by the emotionless doing of daily chores—and scars the heart. If compassion were banknotes, the world would be poverty-stricken. Proof of one’s raison d’être, after all, is marked with concrete and bricks and bank balances; in most cases, the larger the concrete, the smaller the space available on the heart for scarring.
Attached to each relic we visit are thousands of outstretched hands. Do we notice them? Sure, they ruin the view. Attached to each hotel we sleep in are thousands of bellies kept awake by hunger; to each nightclub, thousands of children maimed by the groping hands of the depraved. Compassion would ruin the fun of playing in the children’s killing fields.
Rampant hunger does not allow a scavenger the niceties of learning or sleep. A clever mind can only be noticed once the stomach has been filled.
To close our eyes to the present misery—while squandering our time, money and energy to fixate on the past—is to ensure that the children are forgotten and that compassion becomes as dead as history. The children are hungry now. They are homeless now. They are used now. They are abused now. To believe that tourist dollars trickle down to the neediest is to believe in the Tooth Fairy. There is a flow of wealth, but it moves uphill. Without compassion we entertain the notion that simply by visiting a country we wave a magic wand and miraculously solve its problems. What arrogance! What blindness!
Compassion is an uncomfortable companion; its sleep is light and troubled. Alone, it is weak: it must be accompanied by grit in order to do its work. Compassion goes to find hunger and feeds it. Compassion looks for hurt and heals it. Compassion finds a tear and replaces it with a smile. It eats at the table of the starving, sleeps in the gutter with the homeless, and goes with the abused to meet the abuser. It enters hell along with the damned, looking constantly for an escape route; when it finds none, it picks up tools to make one.
To break the culture of every-man-for-himself takes compassion and grit, and when the one fails the other is useless.