Culture

Outwardly Entitled, Inwardly Tortured: A Treatise on Learning and Teaching Compassion

Photo: neeel. CC-BY.
After The Fall—
which took place
when I was about 7—
my insides
became noise,
to drown out
memory.

I became capable
of victimizing others
to amuse my friends,
the only court of opinion
I cared about,
my own center
being inaccessible.

One Saturday night
in high school,
out in my convertible
with buddies from
the football team--
our letter jackets
keeping us warm
in the breeze—
we picked up
another boy on the team,
who’d been recruited
because he weighed 350 pounds:
a sad boy
who lived alone
with his grandma
and compensated
by acting like a clown.

After getting him drunk,
we let him out of the car
to stagger around
in the plaza in front
of the high school.
I trained my Ford Galaxy’s
high-powered spotlight on him
and we all laughed to see
his shadow projecting
30 feet high onto
the school’s façade.

Another time,
as our busses were
about to leave
a wooded camp where
our Confirmation Class
had spent the weekend,
I tied a smaller boy
to a tree in the woods,
then went to tell my friends,
whom I believed would find it
as funny as I did.

I was not capable
of empathy. This
did not show
on my clothes or
my report cards.
I did not know it myself
until several nervous breakdowns
after leaving home.

Now I’m a teacher,
and when I see children
smirking and laughing
at someone behind
the person’s back,

I search for a nugget
of wisdom, learned
on my own hard road,
to share with them;

but only time, I’m realizing,
can tell them—if
they are fortunate, I mean—
in a way that gets
their full attention.