Compelling Stories with a Strong Dose of Compassion

White_BimIt’s a clear cold winter morning. I’m standing by the slender window of my home office in New York, looking at the snowy rooftops lining the infinity of Broadway. We just made it back home with my 13 year old Labrador. He aged suddenly, right after Christmas. He used all his might to recover from pneumonia, despite the grim prognoses.

He’s breathing deeply in his sleep, and I gaze at the sparkling snow below and hear the reverberating voices: Move on! Not at my store!- a Dominican gesticulates, big eyes, shot in the neck, No Más! Why don’t you put this dog to sleep!

A big crowd is gathered around us. Leo walked too far, laid on the snowy ground to rest and doesn’t have the strength to get back up. My neighbor steps inside the buzzing circle, whispers: “Let me help”. He holds an umbrella over us, protecting us from prying glances. Leo struggles to get up and slowly, step by step, head to the ground, supported by my hands, leaves the crowd behind. I can still hear the rumbling of voices. My neighbor coaches me along the way- “Pay no attention! These people had a traumatic past, a recent past they are still struggling to reconcile with.”

How simple and how ironic! I am what is missing in their world. I am compassion, walking in their midst my aging dog.

There was a fantastic film about compassion when I was a kid in Russia, called White Bim Black Ear. The owner needs to recuperate his health at a Black Sea resort and leaves his dog in care of a neighbor. The dog leaps the fence and pursues the car, until it’s lost in sight. As the stellar hunter in his prime searches for his master, the man feels that something is wrong, cuts his vacation short and returns to search for his Gordon Setter. Longing for each other, the man and his dog live through indifference and cruelty of the outside world as they pick up and loose each other’s trails. There is no happy ending- the man finds his dog a day too late.

My 1st grade teacher brought our whole class to see that film. By the end we were bawling our little broken hearts out. I still get a lump in my throat when I recall it. But no one in my class, not the worst hooligans, ever hurt a dog because we experienced this film.

Perhaps there is room now for compelling stories with a strong dose of compassion? Shielding behind a happy ending is not teaching us about the world we are privileged to occupy.