Author Amy Tan shares this remarkable insight:
“In one of John Muir Laws’s books, I read something profound that changed the way my brain thinks. “As you draw the bird,” he writes, “try to feel the life within it.” So now I look at the bird before me and imagine how it senses the world, how it feels breathing cold air, how it feels to have its feathers ruffling in the wind, how it feels to always have an eye out for possible food and possible predators. The bird sees me and is a nanosecond from flying off, but it stays. Why? By imagining the life within, the bird I am drawing is alive, no longer a shape and its parts, but a thinking, sentient being, always on the brink of doing something. By feeling the life within, I am always conscious that all creatures have personalities, and so do trees and clouds and streams. To feel the life within, I now imagine myself as the bird that is looking at me. I imagine its wariness, the many ways it has almost died in its short life. I worry over its comfort and safety, and whether I will see my little companion the next day, the next year. To feel the life within is to also feel grief in the goneness of a single creature or an entire species. Imagination is where compassion grows. Let us join with children to imagine and wonder, to use curiosity as the guide to miracles in plain sight. Let us enter with them into wild wonder so that we become guardians together of all that is living and all that must be saved.”From Orion Magazine, “The Life Within”.
I wonder if we can look at each other that way, as something vaster, as thinking sentient beings with worlds of experience, some harsh. Would that help us to treat each other better? In her book, Dead Man Walking, Sister Helen Prejean describes just this sort of thing as she works with a death row inmate, a man who admittedly committed a heinous act, seeing not just the man but also, though covered with tattoos and bathed in bravado, the little wounded child within. That empathy allowed her to see past the crimes to the human and to feel compassion for him.
Perhaps today we can look with new eyes to see each other as a composite of good and bad, but each fully human and fully deserving of respect and compassion. To paraphrase Amy Tan above, when we consider the person, can we try to picture the life within, the challenges and struggles, hopes and triumphs? Can we become, together, ‘guardians of all that is living and must be saved’ in a place where ‘compassion grows’?