Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Let’s appreciate, and perhaps envy, the amazing compassion of those who feel the pain of others

On the newspages of this paper you will find a story about a mum who wants to help her son, and to help the organisation that is helping him too.

It’s a heart-warming story about Phyllis Baker who is taking on the Dublin City Marathon to raise funds for Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, why she’s doing it and why she won’t sit back and do nothing.

There’s only one Phyllis Baker and while examples of individuals taking on huge challenges to help others aren’t unusual, they are certainly not common; such stories are about exceptional people doing exceptional things, in Westmeath and far beyond.

Perhaps it’s compassion, personified.

On another page in this edition you can find a story about the Ken Smollen Food Appeal, and a Country and Gospel Night which raised funds for his organisation. Ken won’t be running a marathon, but he’s a driven man who, having seen that families in this region were going without food and heat, decided to get up and help them.

It’s another heart-warming story and, again, it’s compassion, personified.

And all around the county – and country – individuals and groups are working to help the refugees from Ukraine who, since February of last year, have been coming here in their thousands to escape the horrors of a war their country did not initiate.

Compassion, personified.

Then there’s the group trying to raise more than €1m for an MRI scanner for Mullingar Regional General Hospital, while the hospital itself, along with the HSE, is trying to put the infrastructure in place to house such equipment.

But you don’t have to look far to see compassion. Every community and every parish will be home to people with big hearts.

All of this raises at least two questions: why are individuals having to take on such challenges to do what the State should be doing and, on a deeper and theological level, why is there such suffering anyway?

If you asked any of Westmeath’s TDs about funding, they will quickly roll out the answers, especially if they are in government.

‘It’s not necessarily a case of people being let down by the system, it’s because there is an imperfect system in an imperfect world and sometimes the innocent suffer’

And it’s true that millions of euro of funding comes into the country from central government every year, but it’s clearly not enough, not if individuals have to stand up, go out and raise money for great causes.

So it seems that there has always been and will always be cases and causes who miss out on state assistance, and so there will always be the need for the Phyllis Bakers and Ken Smollens of this world. It’s not necessarily a case of people being let down by the system, it’s because there is an imperfect system in an imperfect world and sometimes the innocent suffer. It should not be that way, but it is.

On the broader issue of suffering itself, that’s best left to the theologians or psychologists to deal with; suffice to say that suffering, like the poor, will always be with us. Points to ponder when we read about Phyllis or Ken is the difference between empathy (feeling another person’s pain) and compassion (taking action to relieve the suffering of others).

It follows, then, that without suffering, there would be no compassion – one generates the other.

In pondering what is fair and unfair and what is right and wrong in this crazy world of ours, we can remain in our cosy places and look on as the compasson of others drives them on to do the most wonderful things, for other people.

When it comes to compassion, personified, we don’t have to look far to find the Phyllis Bakers and Ken Smollens of this world. We can at least appreciate their pure goodness.

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