Many people are suffering around us, and compassion requires we respond

A few weeks ago, I was leaving my house in darkness before sunrise for my morning bike commute when I heard a woman screaming for help. I turned around and pedaled as fast as I could towards the screams and found her standing in the street a few doors down.

“How can I help you?” I asked.  “He’s hitting me!” she cried, pointing to a man inside the back seat of a car. Both the driver door and the rear passenger were open, and I looked inside and saw a man in the back seat. He was holding a syringe and cursing at me. “You can’t help her. Nobody can help her!” I thought about the situation for a moment, then offered to the woman: “Would you like to take refuge inside my home until the police arrive.” She declined. I stood and watched as the two shouted at one another. She wanted him out of the car. He wanted a ride. Eventually, they reached a compromise. “Get in the trunk!” she ordered. The man obliged. Then she got behind the wheel, offered me a “Thank you,” and drove off.

This experience reminded me of an important truth about compassion and responsibility, two values important to Unitarian Universalism. Many people are suffering around us, and compassion requires we respond. How should we respond? This question requires conscientious discernment. However, sometimes the situation demands an immediate response, like a woman screaming for help next door, and we need to act intuitively. My intuition guided me to pay attention to her suffering, move towards it, and do what I could to relieve it. I do not know the outcome of my efforts. I do not know where this woman is or how she is doing or even if she is still alive. However, I do know I can tell this story without the kind of regret I know I would feel if I had ignored her screams and pedaled in the other direction to work.


See you on Sunday