The Worst Day of Their Lives

I am sitting at the airport.

Before I sat down, I saw a woman push my bags off the security scanner so she could get hers. I heard a man snap at a security guard. A cab driver told me people were ignorant and stingy.

And I’m thinking, Is my world today full of unpleasant people? I feel so little tenderness for them.

But I’ve thought that thought often enough to know it doesn’t serve me. So, in my airport chair, I’m trying out an empathy exercise. I’m asking myself, What if this is the worst day of their lives.

What if I’m seeing them at the moment when they’ve been pushed beyond their heart’s known limits.

It’s possible that it’s not true. Perhaps, though, that doesn’t matter. Perhaps what matters is risking the belief that, as Father Greg Boyle suggests, the answer to every question – perhaps especially questions about those who bother us – is compassion.

Here in my airport chair, this empathy exercise is helping me to hold people with more of an open heart and less of a raging mind.

And I’m starting to think that my world today is not full of unpleasant people, but full of regular people living with the hurts, shortcomings, hopes, humanity that make up a mortal life.

And these are people I can feel tenderness for.

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