Real compassion is not the act of standing aside, watching things happen, and feeling a brief moment of sadness. Real compassion is a fearless, self-sacrificial outworking of a deep and intense emotional pull, something that is somewhat closer to the definition of 'passion'.
I rate compassion as highly as I rate its sisters; mercy, gentleness, and grace. Although these words come with an association of weakness they, in fact, all take far more strength and courage than we recognise.
A recently released Kiwi movie entitled How Far Is Heaven follows a year in the life of three women as they dedicate their time to a remote community called Jerusalem, or Hiruharama, on the Whanganui River. These incredible ladies are all members of the Sisters of Compassion, the only home-grown Catholic order in New Zealand.
Sister Anna Maria Shortall, a 94-year-old who has lived in Jerusalem for 22 years, can be seen in the movie sweeping the leaves, ringing the church bells and chopping the firewood with an axe in an attempt to preserve the church and serve the people. When asked what compassion was she replied without hesitation, "suffering with others".
A need for compassion
I could give you an endless list of people who have lived a compassionate life but instead I'm going to share with you a couple of causes that, right now, are in desperate need of people who will step outside of themselves and act with compassion.
On August 28 an Issues and Opinions paper was released entitled Solutions to Child Poverty in New Zealand. The paper revealed that "25 percent of our children live in households where incomes fall below recognised poverty thresholds. This is about 270,000 children". This translates to almost double the poverty rate of 30 years ago.
Then, on September 3, the provisional annual suicide statistics were published. These figures showed that, although the total number of suicides had decreased, there was a significant rise in the number of suicides in the 15 to 19-year-old age group. It also highlighted the youngest suicide case since records began in 2007, in the 5 to 9-year-old age group.
In light of these numbers it will come as no surprise to you that a lot of people are starting to ask where it all went wrong and what we can do about it.
Compassion in action
The beginning of September marked the two year anniversary of the 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch and there is no doubt that this has contributed massively to the hurt being felt across the country. However, it also proved that in times of need, the compassion showed by New Zealanders is a great testament to what they can do.
On the same day as the anniversary I wrote two articles. The first told of organisations and volunteers who give up their time to distribute food in low-decile schools. The second was of a community church who's members, from September 22 to 23, will donate their weekend to fixing up a local school. Both these stories show passionate people working in a compassionate way to better the lives of others.
What an amazing difference both of these gifts must make in the lives of the children that receive them. I'm no expert on the best way to eradicate poverty or prevent suicide but I do know that our actions can be a source of inspiration for the youth of New Zealand, that in times of struggle and uncertainty we can give them hope through our compassion. We just have to be passionate enough.
I'd like to finish by quoting Henri J.M. Nouwen, a Dutch-born writer and Catholic priest. "Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears.
Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human."
Gemma Margerison is an aspiring author from the North of England. She currently works as the chief reporter for Challenge Weekly Christian newspaper in Auckland, New Zealand.
Gemma Margerison's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/gemma-margerison.html