“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).”
Yesterday I got up at 2:45 am to do my job. I was expected to be at a local hotel in the wee hours in order to escort a group of international students to their departure airport four hours away.
We arrived at the airport without incident. However, the next couple of hours were definitely not quiet ones.
As the 18 folks in our charge checked their luggage, you could see their mixed emotions. In addition to being bleary-eyed from no sleep, they also were conflicted about leaving and going home.
In my view, some of them were holding back. They didn’t want to face the goodbyes.
Shortly thereafter, we took the students to their gate. However, we had to go through hell and back to escort them further.
First, we had to leave the security scanners and go back to their airline to get badges. This took forever, and a lot of walking.
After that ordeal, we had to go through all the security a normal traveler does, including half-disrobing, to get to their gate. And more walking.
We arrived about a half an hour before boarding began. This group of sweet people, normally outgoing and musical, were generally somber and reflective.
As the boarding began, so did the waterworks. Students approached me with hugs, culturally significant gestures of respect and kind comments.
What affected me the most, though, were the tears. With some of them, gushers came from their eyes.
I had determined beforehand that I wasn’t going to let loose emotionally. After all, I was their professor, their leader.
I was a professional. Furthermore, someone had to keep calm, didn’t they?
I refused to emotionally get wrapped up in the moment. In hindsight, this was a big mistake.
These people loved me, and I loved them. I will probably never see most of them again.
If I wasn’t crying then, I am now. I am weeping over a lost opportunity to show them I cared.
The apostle Paul did in similar circumstances. He was saying goodbye to some leaders of a church once, and told them they would never see him again.
Paul knelt and prayed with them. They in turn wept and embraced him (Acts 20:36.37).
Oh, I wasn’t a total clod with my students. I returned their hugs and told the as they left, “God bless you guys.”
Yet, I didn’t weep. I should have. It would have been appropriate, more than that, really.
Some macho creed and a desire not to appear emotional kept from crying with them, though. It was stupid.
Catholic priest Gregory Boyle, in his book about ministering to gang members in Los Angeles (Tattoos on the Heart), relates a story of how a former gang member stood with him in grief.
Freddy comes by his office after the killing of coworker, himself a former gang member who was shot down by rivals. Freddy asks the priest how he is doing.
“I know your heart is breaking,” Freddy tells him, crying as the words come out. “I wish I had a magic wand to pass over your pain.”
The priest the homies call “G” writes:
“As an adult, I cannot recall every crying with another person more fully than at that moment. We both just lose ourselves in sobbing. Usually, I’d put myself as the homies say “on check status”, but even I couldn’t pull this off at the moment. I’d been holding this enormous, outsized grief “in check” for so long and had sudden permission to release it in the gentle urging and vast heart of Freddy.”
Freddy goes on to tell “G” that if he had a choice between a million dollars and alleviating his pain, he would choose the latter. Further, Freddy tells the priest the reason: “G” had stood with the homies amidst the pain of the barrio and “swept them up”.
Freddy tells “G” that if he could, he would sweep “G” up, too. The priest, eking out a response in the middle of sobs, replies,”You just did.”
When it comes to relating to and helping people, Boyle notes that it is more important to be faithful than successful. It is more important to stand with someone, to identify with them.
Boyle writes,”It’s as basic as crying together. It is about ‘casting your lot’ before it ever becomes about ‘changing their lot.”
My students are gone. I can’t go back. There is no “do over” when it comes to my farewell with them.
However, I still have a family I live with every day. They’re humans with real problems, fears, distresses, and pain.
I can become more compassionate and caring with them, not just in action but in expression. I don’t always have to be stoic.
In fact, I think they could use some show of passion from me, especially when it comes to their pain. Maybe once in a while it would be good to let myself go in their presence.
This means I have to be vulnerable with my wife and kids. That’s a tough one for me.
It means first of all that I will have to look inside and determine how I actually AM feeling about their pain. Will I find real compassion there? Oh God, I hope so.
Getting in touch with myself and my emotions is a good place to begin in order to SHOW compassion to others. It’s a fearful thing, but with God’s help I intend to do it.