Sunday, April 20, 2014 - 8:48pm
I am David H Breaux and since June 3rd, 2009, I've been standing at the corner of 3rd & C Streets in Davis, California asking people to write their concept of compassion in a notebook. I estimate asking about 20,000 people and receiving over 10,000 responses. I share a couple stories as a starting point to writing blogs for the Charter for Compassion website. Here are two stories that stand out to me, exemplifying what happens at the Compassion Corner:
I first received a glimpse of the magnitude of compassion within the first few weeks of asking people to write their concepts in the notebook. A man came up to me with a friend of his who was drunk. The drunk man said he was going to lay his body across the train tracks. The man said his friend talked like this only when he’s drunk. He then said he knew of my work with compassion and, because of this, asked me to do something to help his friend. He lived nearby so I went to the man’s house with his drunk friend and sat with them for a while.
I sat there and listened to the man’s friend while he shared the woes of his life. I just listened. No responses. No judgment. I just allowed him to speak freely. After about half an hour he fell asleep. I spoke with the man to make sure he would stay with his friend until he woke up, which he did. A few days later the man who was drunk came back to me and sincerely thanked me for helping him out.
With new eyes, I began to see the impact of what I was doing and what was happening. I didn’t expect that asking people about compassion would amount to much nor did I expect it to grow so quickly. I soon realized that what I was doing was catching the attention of more and more people. Word-of-mouth brought more people to the corner every day for many different reasons. People were coming to me for advice, to share their stories, or to just stand with me at the corner for a moment of quiet peace. Within a few months, hundreds had written their ideas about compassion without my even asking.
Another story is from January 14th, 2010. I was standing at the corner as usual, watching students biking on their way to class. I recognized a man approaching whom I’d spoken small talk to on his way to work. This particular morning I noticed he was walking without his usual work gear and with a bit more determination. He waved to me, saying, “Give me the notebook,” as he signaled the “gimme” sign. I was struck by his demand: seldom do I experience such a thing with the notebook. He wrote something down and walked onward.
I usually don’t read what people write right away, but since he had already written his definition, and because of the way in which he had demanded the notebook, I glanced down to see what he had written: Today my mother died. Mother always meant compassion.
They say that when you come close to death, your entire life passes before your eyes. After reading what he wrote, the 3,000 responses I had read up to that moment flashed before my eyes. I then felt obliged to take action and called him over, opening my arms up to him. He turned around, approached me, and wept on my shoulder while we embraced. My mother died years ago, so I told him I knew what he was going through because of my own experience with my mother’s passing. He wiped his tears on my shoulder and walked on.
Afterwards, for about half an hour, I felt the visceral energy of compassion running through me like the current of a mild river. The only thing I experienced was the feeling—no mind chatter, no past, no future—simply the present moment awareness of compassion. Tears fell from my eyes without effort. I wasn’t crying; it felt more like a natural rhythm of being... like breathing. A soft white glowing light surrounded everything around me. It was then that I knew being at the corner was a lot more than just asking people to write their concept of compassion in a notebook.