How a simple act of compassion can change a life forever
by Sean Grover
Derrick is painfully aware he’s poor. Forced to wear worn out sneakers and jeans, he’s often the subject of ridicule wherever he goes, particularly when he delivers newspapers to the wealthy part of town. And it’s not just teasing by other kids; even the adults in that neighborhood snicker at him.
Derek’s mother works as a secretary in that section of town. In the evenings, Derek tosses a ball against the front stoop of his apartment, while he waits for his mother to come home. Despite her struggle to make ends meet, she always returns from work cheerful and full of stories about her day. She never complains. Derek wonders how she can work with the wealthy snobby people – and still enjoy herself. Derek welcomes her with a smile and a kiss.
Yet, in his heart, Derek holds a secret that he will never share with his mother: He hates wealthy people. To him, they’re not just unkind; they’re the personification of evil.
Thank goodness for baseball-Derek’s one constant joy in life. Living in the shadows of a national stadium, makes him feel like he’s part of the team. Every Sunday, he helps ticket-takers at the turnstiles, and in return, he’s given free admission to the games. Every time he enters the stadium, he cheers, quickly dashes up the stairs and grabs a seat high above the field.
On a particular Sunday, Derek notices empty box seats right behind home plate. Empty box seats behind home plate? No way. It’s too good to be true. Waiting until the third inning, he swallows hard, makes his way to the seats and cautiously enters the box.
Derek has never been so close to the game before. He can hear the sound of the baseball as it whizzes through the air, the grunts of the players, and the shouts of the coaches.
Derek is so immersed in the game that he doesn’t hear the couple that has entered the box. By the time he notices them, they’re sitting right beside him. Derek closes his eyes and imagines the worst: handcuffed, arrested and taken away as the crowd laughs at him; ridiculed and embarrassed again.
But nothing happens. In fact, the couple barely notices him. After two innings, Derek works up the nerve to have closer a look at them.
The woman is wearing gold earrings and a fur hat; the man, a long dark tweed coat and shiny shoes. “Oh no,” Derek thinks, “It’s wealthy people.”
Derek is scrutinizing the couple, when the man turns and looks into Derek’s eyes. Derek’s heart stops. The man squints at him hard and starts to say something. Derek feels panic wash over him.
“Hey kid,” the man says, “Want an ice cream?”
Suddenly, the man is waving down a vendor. Before Derek knows it, he has an ice cream cone in his hand.
“Great game, isn’t it?”
“Sir? Hell, it’s been a long time since I heard that from a kid.”
The man chuckles and chats with Derek throughout the game. They talk about the players, batting averages, and how much they love baseball. With every inning, the coldness in Derek’s heart melts away.
Today Derek, a mentor and friend, is a celebrated psychotherapist and author of over a dozen self-help books. Yet, he describes that day at the stadium as a defining moment of his life. “I never saw him after the game. But for a while there, for the last few innings, he was the father I never had.”
What changed Derek’s feelings so quickly? What was the mighty force that zapped the hatred from Derek’s heart? A simple act of compassion.
Before the man spoke to Derek, he was just an abstraction, another faceless evil “wealthy person.” It was easy for Derek to hate him because, as an abstraction, the man was stripped of all human qualities. Such abstractions are bound to produce unfound prejudice and fear, even result in people labeling others who are different from them as evil or inhuman. Sadly, when we turn people into abstractions, they loose their individual qualities and characteristics and we lose touch with our basic humanity.
As Derek’s story illustrates, compassion is a far more powerful force than hatred. When the man at the stadium reached out to Derek and befriended him, he altered Derek’s view of others forever. The man didn’t see Derek as different from him in any way. After all, they were fellow baseball fans. The man treated Derek as an equal not as a poor kid who needed a handout.
Such moments of everyday compassion are the antidote to the dehumanizing generalizations that breed a culture of isolation. It’s a challenge to respond with compassion in daily life, particularly with children. But the moment you do, you feel lighter and more hopeful. You even look younger.
Acts of compassion are not hard to find. Just look around. Just ask Derek. After all, it was a simple act of compassion – an ordinary ice cream cone, during an ordinary baseball game on an ordinary day that altered his view of others forever. And there’s nothing ordinary about that. www.seangrover.com