compassion is a verb

Compassion is a verb.
 ―Thich Nhat Hanh

Lying in bed last night I got to thinking, the tangled lattice of gently swaying pines outside our window is good for that—mesmerizing. I began to contemplate what it is that motivates people to give charitably—or not to.

I wonder if people give to causes like cancer research, world hunger or disaster relief because they know someone who is personally impacted? Do they give because they know their friends give? Do they give because they truly want to make the world a better place? Do they give because they are compassionate, selfless and loving? Do they give because of their faith, their conscience?

On the contrary, what makes able people decide not to give? To ignore the meager tin cup with its begging coin slot sitting on the grocer’s checkout counter—you know—the one with the photo of the sick child? To walk unflinchingly past the homeless woman asking for nothing more than pocket change or food? What makes someone ignore appeals for aid when they’ve got ample resources to help? Is it fear? Avarice? Mood? Judgment? Apathy? Righteousness? Ignorance? Though, regrettably, I myself have neglected to give when I could have, I still can't claim to know the motivation of others. And although I am not a religious person, and as silly and cliche as it might sound, sometimes I find myself reflexively asking, what would Jesus do, albeit assuming he had sufficient funds?

The only thing I can figure is that those who choose to give charitably are either born with the capacity for compassion written deeply within their DNA or they have perhaps suffered some hardship of their own that has allowed them to more easily step outside themselves and to truly, deeply understand what it is to fulfill others needs; to be selfless enough to give without expecting something in return. Some call these philanthropists heroes. Some might call them saints. I call them exemplary, kind, noble.

In my campaign to promote awareness of epilepsy’s prevalence and scourge—and in turn to raise funds for research into a cure—I’ve been deeply moved by the charity of some. A woman I barely know, perhaps not at all except for her name and the fading memory of her beautiful teenage face, made a generous donation to the cause. In turn, a friend of hers kicked in the same amount. An acquaintance, who hasn’t displayed the slightest awareness that we even have a child—much less one who is very ill—gave a hundred dollars. Old friends, new friends, scores of compassionate folks living in our community have donated. People who’ve never met Calvin—who’ve never laid an eye on us—have given liberally. All have donated to help free our boy from the lash of seizures and the crush of drugs that continue to haunt his days and nights, and we are deeply grateful.

Yes, I think the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh is right; compassion is a verb. If you can't think of a reason not to give during this brief campaign to raise funds for epilepsy research and celebrating Calvin's eighth spin around the sun (which is a no small accomplishment) then, can I humbly ask, will you?


  1. I often ask myself these same questions regarding giving. I want to give to so many causes for so many different reasons. I just noted to my husband that we need to start donating money to these causes on a monthly basis, even if it's just a small amount. A different cause each month so that once the end of the year comes by, we're not wondering why we didn't give more when we could have. In this case, I gave because Calvin has been in my son's class for the past two years. I'm quite certain he would be disappointed in me if we didn't try to help his friend out.

  2. dear jen,
    thank you for your thoughtfulness. you are so sweet and gavin? is too.
    we can always strive to do better. your generous spirit is much appreciated!