On the Gift of Compassion


For Geevee—and for all the others who serve like her.

I attended the Christmas party of a friend’s special education school today, and while watching one of the students’ performances, was struck by the realization that some of these children probably spent enormous amounts of time and effort trying to do what most people would find as the simplest of tasks: grasping a fork, tying a shoelace, saying a single line without a stutter.

It’s an observation so banal as to be almost clichéd, except my realization was paralleled by the insight that I too have spent enormous amounts of time and effort trying to do what can seem to others as the simplest of tasks: doing a deep forward bend, balancing on my shoulders and head, sitting in a lotus pose upside down.

And it struck me then how unique we all are in our struggles: these challenges surmountable to everyone but us, these feats of physical or emotional courage trivial to everyone but us, these solitary burdens that define our unrepeatable existences as much as (or perhaps more than) our gifts. In the case of children with special needs, their struggles are simply more visible: the rest of us soldier on with our brittle armors of normalcy, forgiving ourselves—and forgiving others—far less with our assumptions of mutual capability. You and I should know better and do better—and we castigate ourselves and others because we just don’t.

Perhaps this is why special children move us and touch us so much. They allow us to exercise that often-dormant compassion that we sacrifice all too willingly on the altar of our growth and achievement. They embody to a heightened degree our shared fragility, our common struggle and our need to be nurtured and loved without conditions.

For all these reasons, and many more, we need these children more than they need us. I can only hope that our generosity can at least match theirs.

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