As we approach Easter there is growing excitement about the relaxation of lockdown restrictions. There is a feeling that we are pretty much getting back to normal in Britain. Easter eggs on sale. Schoolchildren drinking in parks. Crowds of shivering beachgoers lounging under cloudy skies. But there is a sense in which getting back to normal would be rather unfortunate. A great many lessons have been learned over the course of the pandemic and learning to be more compassionate might be the most important lesson of all. Instead of going back to the way things have always been we should continue to cultivate our growing compassion.
The word itself, compassion, derives from the Latin ‘com’ meaning ‘with’, and ‘passio’ meaning ‘suffer’. So to have compassion for a person suffering, contrary to the dictionary definition of feeling pity for that person, is to take on the person’s suffering and to suffer with them. Compassion moved the whole country to happily undergo multiple lockdowns, saw neighbours checking in on the elderly and the sick, and encouraged nationwide support for key workers and medical staff. This is both remarkable and a commonplace in times of crisis.
However, it is easy enough as human beings for us to be selective with our feelings of compassion, to only really fully take notice once it has amassed on our doorstep. Such a large crisis quite naturally grabs our attention. But there is a silent, subtler crisis that has been developing for many years: homelessness. The pandemic has accentuated the issue, but it had been growing alarmingly, well before we’d heard of Covid-19.
It is hard to feel compassion for someone you do not notice. Whenever one walks down the street the sight of a person begging is so ubiquitous in Britain now that it is very easy to simply walk right past them as they sit on the ground asking for spare change.
The UK responded to the Coronavirus with a great deal of grace and humanity, with millions of people suffering with each other. But the lesson we have learned from this pandemic, of being more compassionate, if it is not to be a wasted lesson it must be remembered and applied to everyone in society. We cannot allow things to go back to the way they were before if it still means human beings sleeping in the streets begging for change and food. To feel compassion one must pay attention, and to pay attention, is to love. If we are to make the world better than it was before then we need to have more compassion, and for that we need more love.
“Brothers, have no fear of men’s sin. Love a man even in his sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals; love the plants; love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things.”
- Father Zosima from Dostoevsky’s Brother’s Karamazov.
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