Teaching Children Compassion
When I was a kid; my dad owned a nursing home. I remember he would take my brothers, sisters and I on weekends and special holidays to visit the elderly. I would cringe as I entered the quiet place which smelled of urine and oldness. I always thought it was such a sad place and felt ultimately tortured in having to postpone my recent sleepover and show up. We would visit all the rooms, especially the ones where the people were unable to move from their beds. We rehearsed and sang Christmas carols at Christmas time and brought goodies or painted the ladies nails. I was young and then became a teenager. I was selfish and bored if not a little scared. It wasn’t until later in life; as my parents’ aged and my grandparents began to fall into the category of needing this type of care did I realize the compassion my father expressed. I later began to recall the positive aspects of these experiences. There were the ones in the wheel chairs who would practically race around the halls trying to follow us for a simple glimpse into our youth and innocence. There was the occasional elderly man or woman who would tear up while we sang a song. In those moments it almost felt as though God himself was in the room with us; smiling and pleased. We gave those people time they didn’t have with anyone. We filled a gap of loneliness if for even a brief bit of time. One day brightened in a place where they had come to die.
I also recall several occasions where my dad picked up hitchhikers or homeless people on the streets. We didn’t have a ton of money but we had enough. He would take them where they needed to go and buy them a meal. Once he gave this guy the shirt he was wearing and bandaged a hand which was injured. My dad pulled into a pharmacy and came out with the most incredible stock of medical supplies, ointments and band-aids for this homeless guy he didn’t even know. He carefully doctored his hand and I remember reflecting on the amount of love he showed the stranger. He would often shed tears after dropping them off and one time said, “he’s my brother. It could be me…..it could be me.” Again, it didn't sink in fully untlil later. At the time I was perplexed why he would risk the danger of having some foul smelling stranger enter our car. Why he didn’t buy us a McDonald’s meal but was willing to spend it on this guy. When I did wake up from my selfish slumber this perspective kept me thinking the rest of my life how blessed I was. Now, I often do think, “It could be me.” So, I have shared that with my children. I tell them the stories and point out those who would need our help. While I can’t say I make a habit of picking up hitchhikers, I do try and set an example for my children. In the very least teach them about love and service.
Compassion is Learned
When I was younger I thought compassion was something you did. Now I know better. Compassion is something you learn. A loving heart is without expectation. Through these simple yet overtly compassionate lessons; my dad taught me how simple it is to truly give and yet how absolutely life changing it can be for someone. Teaching these lessons to my children is not only important but essential. Our communities change, our societies change. Ultimately we can change the world by planting these seeds of love and kindness.