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I shot this on our last trip to the Getty museum in LA. It’s not a good photo, but it seemed like a good point to leap off from in discussing compassion. I know watching the nun and her charge that I felt a great upwelling of pity and compassion, for both of them. I watched the nun cut a piece of fruit and feed it to the girl in the wheelchair. Every few bites she’d take one herself, so the two of them could share the experience, I suppose. Or she was hungry too.

I imagine both lives as incredibly circumscribed and incredibly bountiful. The nun has chosen her path of austerity, chastity, and service, love of the lord spurring her to turning her whole life into one ongoing act of self-denial and spiritual grunt work. The girl in the chair obviously did not conciously choose her cross. Her suffering is imposed on some level. I don’t want to minimize her suffering or ‘steal’ it for the purpose of some pat spiritual lesson or musing: I worked intimately with handicapped and mentally ill people for years, both in hospital and residential settings, and I am under no illusions about the quality of their lives. But. I wonder if, in some cases, there is not a spiritual ‘endowment’ that comes with this great suffering, some ramping up of the inner life to compensate, in some measure, for the awful external loss?

Okay, maybe. Maybe not.

But how about on the level of simple intimacy? The act of another human hand putting food into your mouth? The most primitive and primal expression of love, of compassion… surely this must strike a chord of comfort at the very least, must communicate on a cellular level that there does exist some force in the terrible world that loves you, even the stricken and malformed, even the least one.

I just want us all to know a moment of peace, no matter how bitter the world we find ourselves in. And these two, for a few moments on a busy day in a glorious place, fed each other and my dream of a world where compassion finds a way.

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