An Encouraging Word — The power of compassion

Father Ron Knott

Show compassion toward each other. Zechariah 7:9

At 70, I had my first experience of sitting in one of our local hospital emergency rooms. That makes me lucky. Even though I had to be admitted for a blood clot in my leg, I had not been in a hospital bed since I was 8 years old. That makes me even luckier.

After sitting in the emergency room for four hours with two more to go, with steam coming out of both ears, looking at a big red sign that said, “Rapid Intake” I was ready to go home and die in my own bed. The words “emergency room” should read “sit and rot room.”

Knowing that I was on the verge of a screaming rampage and realizing that would not look good in the Courier-Journal, being escorted out in handcuffs and a clergy shirt, I decided to calm down. I scanned the room for people who were in much worse shape than me and began to pray for them and the really sick on every floor of that hospital.

I got up enough nerve to speak to one young man writhing on the floor in pain, holding his side. I asked him if there was anything I could do for him. He said, “Yes, say a prayer. I have full blown AIDS.” I placed my hand on his shoulder, said a prayer and offered him encouragement.

Next, I went over to an old lady in a wheel chair whose face was dark brown on one side, as if she had fallen. She was folded in half and leaning sideways in pain. I touched her on the shoulder, gave her a faint smile and folded my hands in a gesture of prayer. Others were in obvious great pain — especially a laborer with a broken leg.

Still others acted as if they knew the ropes too well. Not appearing too sick, I wondered if they were the people who supposedly “worked the system” that some politicians stereotype. I say, if they can endure that process, they have earned their treatment.

Every politician ought to be required to endure a typical emergency room once.

Taking my mind off myself helped me calm down and see my situation for what it really was — an inconvenience.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman put it this way: “Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection — or compassionate action.”

A proudly “independent” person like myself does not surrender easily to the indignities of being bedridden for a few days.

Taking the focus off my own embarrassment and trying to show gratitude for the services rendered by some wonderful women with some pretty nasty jobs made it bearable.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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