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The Hard Road of Compassion

Like many of you, I attended a memorial for the victims of 9/11. I had the privilege of hearing from Gregg Manning, a member of the New York Fire Department as he recounted his experience on that fateful day and the weeks that followed. I don’t normally cry in public meetings but I couldn’t help myself. There was so much sincere compassion in his voice when he described for us the six people from his current firehouse who perished when the twin towers collapsed. This rugged public servant then tenderly introduced us to his good friend, Dana, who rushed into the catastrophe to save lives only to end up sacrificing his own.
Gregg was a living example for me of 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, “Praise be to . . . the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God . . . And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
Gregg was vulnerable enough to share his suffering. For weeks they engaged in “rescue” efforts in the rubble. The first body he encountered was a severed torso. He went to the scene hoping to find survivors but was relegated to only discovering bodies. Anytime they found a fallen comrade, they would call the engine company to which he belonged. They would place the remains in a coffin and drape an American flag over it. All work would then cease while the engine company silently marched their “brother” off the premises.
You could tell the pain was still very acute even ten years later. A number of times, he teared up as he paused to recompose himself. The pain of his experience could have ruined him with bitterness but it has miraculously been transformed into compassion. He selflessly flew to a little town in Arkansas early that morning to be with us. He came because, in his own words, “the whole country came to help us in our time of need. This is just one way I can give back.”
We will all experience dark days. We will suffer the loss of loved ones and the loss of dreams. We will have financial setbacks and traumatic interruptions. People who appeared to be great friends will disappoint or betray us. Misunderstandings will arise with people who are indeed great friends. Those who dislike us will do all that is in their power to disrupt our lives. Once those experiences present themselves we have a choice. We can focus on the injustice and develop callused bitter hearts or we can forgive, seek the comfort God provides and let it develop in us a heart of compassion.
There is, of course, nothing harder to be around than a person who has grown increasingly bitter. But, there is nothing sweeter than the comfort that is brought by someone who has been there. They know what it is like. They know what needs to be said and not said. They know how to just be there and they know how to challenge us. When they say, “You will get through us,” they are remarkable believable because they have already proven it is true.
Lord, by your miraculous power, turn the painful events of our lives into hearts of compassion.

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