Compassion.

The first day of the year 2013 was a cold one in Toronto. I had forgotten to wear a hat or scarf when I ventured out to the grocery store to pick up some much-needed vittles for the week ahead.

I was still shivering when I waited in the queue to pay for my broccoli, milk, and eggs, and the man who stood in front of me noticed. He made a quick remark about starting off the year with a chill, and I chuckled when I told him that my lack of winter preparation was perhaps a bad omen for the year ahead.

The man, in his late seventies, with a soft smile and wrinkled skin on his face showing a wisdom acquired from a life of hard experiences, waited for me to pay for my groceries to continue our conversation. I bought him a cup of coffee at the Loblaws coffee stand and we chatted while two musicians played live jazz in the store for shoppers.

Halfway through our conversation, he stopped, stared at me for what seemed like at least two minutes, and then said, clearly and confidently:

“You are a compassionate man. I can see it in your eyes. You have compassion and you want to spend your life helping others.”

I blushed and thanked him for the compliment, hoping to change the conversation, but he continued:

“The most compassionate people I have ever met — you are one of them, now — all have a tendency to give until they are hurt, and hurt badly by someone that doesn’t understand their capacity to care so much. I can see that you’ve been hurt, that you’re closing yourself off to the world because you’re scared you’re going to be hurt again; you’re worried that you’re not going to be able to cope with being hurt like that once more, that you’ll crumble.”

I didn’t respond, but he had more to say:

“You will be hurt again, but you need to believe in your capacity to rebound and persevere in the face of that pain. Your compassion, your desire to give until you are depleted, makes you easy to hurt, easier to take advantage of. Don’t stop. Don’t let the pain cloud the compassion in your eyes. Keep giving of yourself — this world needs more people who are willing to care for others more than they care for themselves. This world needs more compassion.”

I mumbled a thank you, but he stopped me and thanked me instead. Then he picked up his half-empty cup of coffee and his grocery bags and walked out of the store before I was able to get his name.

Grocery bags in hand, I walked home, without a hat or scarf, cold but not shivering. While his praise was too effusive, and whether true or not, his words had warmed me, and reminded me that I’ve been hiding behind a wall of hurt for too long. It’s time to be the me I want to be, again.

Happy new year, everyone. Here’s to a year full of compassion.