Compassion is complex. It involves both empathy and action, but how much of each and for whom? How is compassion aroused? Can it be taught? One person can lack compassion for animals and another weep for their plight. Relationships and the self are both in need of compassion. Does it have to be received before it can be given?
As a reader, you might be surprised by the variety and you might not agree on every interpretation. The point is that writers have explored the idea of compassion and literature seeks to make sense of that undertaking. Join the discussion in the comments!
This week, writers answered a special call to write stories that explore compassion in support of February 20, 2015 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion. The following stories are based on the February 11, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that demonstrates compassion.
Embracing the Individual by Geoff Le Pard
The girl laid flowers on the mossy grave. ‘What was grandpa like, Dad?’
Her father said, ‘He was a mixture of things, love. Kind, caring…’
‘At school they say he was gay.’
‘Yes. He was. After he divorced grandma he realised…’
‘And they say he had a weird religion.’
Her father forced a small smile. ‘A Buddhist. Not many in Liverpool.’
‘And he lived with a black man.’
Her father knelt down. ‘Those things are just dull wrapping paper. You have to rip that off to find the gift inside. Everyone is different but everyone is still a gift.’
True Grit by Sherri Matthews
The old man went down at the first push. “Not so tough now, are yer?” spat Vin as he aimed a heavy kick into the man’s ribs.
The others laughed and jeered, their voices echoing in the dimly lit alley. Vin threw his arm around Joe’s neck as they walked back to the pub.
“I warned that old git before not to ask for money. He had it coming.”
“Yeah, good on yer mate,” Joe lied, pulling away. “Look, I need a slash, you go on…”
Joe slipped behind a charity shop, then ran back to the old man.
Coffee Break by Larry LaForge
Robert scooted from his early morning sociology class to the coffee shop downtown.
Turning onto Main, he spotted someone sitting on the corner holding a crude cardboard sign: A FRIEND IN NEED. He watched as many passersby nodded with sympathy but generally avoided eye contact. Some folks tossed coins into the box without missing a step as they continued on.
Robert checked his pocket for cash, entered the cafe, and ordered two large coffees to go.
“Cream and sugar?” Robert asked as he plopped down next to the vagrant.
They talked for two hours about sports, weather and politics.
The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine.
Compassion by Luccia Gray
I closed the storybook.
“The writer depicts a poor, hungry, and frightened little match girl with bare head and naked feet in the snow, lighting matches to keep warm, before finally dying while sitting against a wall on the pavement.”
“That happened a long time ago, Mrs. Smith. It doesn’t happen anymore.”
I turned on the projector.
“The journalist was killed after watching a little baby’s horrific death. She saw shells, rockets and tank fire during the massacre.”
“Wars are different.”
“It’s never different. It’s the same over and over; greed, hate, violence, suffering, and worst of all…. indifference.”
Mutiny by Paula Moyer
Sunnie couldn’t take it anymore. True, Jean disregarded her homework. She sassed. But Jean was little. Watching Mrs. O’Brien drag Jean out of class hurt.
“I can’t stand it!” Sunnie cried inside.
The next day at recess, Sunnie began conspiring. “We need to stop this,” she said over and over. Finally two classmates agreed.
During spelling class with Mrs. Pearl, Sue said, “Mrs. Pearl, Mrs. O’Brien isn’t fair.”
Sunnie spoke up. “She’s always mean, but she picks on Jean more.”
Annie then said, “That’s right. She picks on Jean.”
Mrs. Pearl listened, then said quietly: “I need to know.”
Understanding by Norah Colvin
In the ‘smart’ outfit carefully selected by the charity shop attendant, Marnie was surprised how well the confident exterior masked the whirlpool of fear, anxiety and insecurity.
Without looking up, the receptionist handed Marnie a number and waved her to the waiting area.
“9”. Her heart sank. “That many?”
Avoiding contact and ‘contamination’, she squeezed into the only available space: between a boy slouching awkwardly and a girl picking her fingernails.
The girl started crying. Marnie stiffened, but glanced sideways. The girl cried into her sleeve.
Marnie breathed, proffered her unopened purse packet of ‘just-in-case’ tissues, and smiled, “Here.”
Sole Mates by Pete Fanning
“Yo Marcus, what is on your feet?”
Marcus shrugged. His white socks glowed under the filthy pair of shoes. He got a few laughs as he did a dance and found his seat.
“Yo, check it out,” someone said. Clinton plodded sheepishly to his desk, his steps pronounced by a shiny pair of Lebron James sneakers.
Marcus smiled, yesterday he’d watched the snickering and pointing over Clint’s split and frayed Nike’s. Then last night he tried to put himself in Clint’s shoes. And only minutes ago, when he’d found Clint whimpering in a bathroom stall, that’s what he did.
(Author’s Note: This was based on a story I read a few weeks back.)
Rainy Night by Kalpana Solsi
Finishing her frugal dinner of dry loaf of bread and yoghurt, she tucked the spare loaf into the wicker basket for next morning.
The rain lashed on the window pane engulfing her little cottage with its ferocity.
Who could it be at the door at this time of the night? There was no soul when she saw through the peep-hole. She cautiously opened the door and he sneaked inside between her legs.
Ramming the door she looked into his innocent eyes sending waves of compassion.
Woof, woof he said. Smilingly, she took out the loaf.
Tomorrow is another day.
Compassion by C. Jai Ferry
The reality show slipped into a commercial break, and his fiancée wiggled her hand in front of him again.
“My sister’s gonna flip with jealousy.” She smirked, splaying her fingers wide. “I can’t wait!”
He turned back to the screen. Puppy eyes stared at him as melancholy notes seeped from the television’s speakers.
She groaned. “They should just put them down.”
“It would save money.” She shrugged, then readjusted her ring. “No one wants them anyway.”
He clasped her hands in his, kissed her cheek, and slid the ring from her finger. He’d make a better investment.
Compassion by Irene Waters
So beautiful. No external mark hinted at the catastrophic injuries she had sustained in the crash. She was my patient and I would give her the last dignities of life despite the tubes which gave her breath and drained her fluids.
“I’ll get security. The boyfriend’s getting angry. I’ve told him it’s relatives only. Some people.” My colleague went off, her huff travelling with her.
Some people indeed, I thought. I couldn’t leave my charge. I called over another colleague, who did my bidding.
The boyfriend stood behind the closed curtain with me. Tears streamed from four eyes. We hugged.
Compassion for the Relationship by Anne Goodwin
We never reserved I love you for Valentine’s and anniversaries, so why should it matter that, this year, you forgot? Yet I contemplate arsenic-on-toast for your breakfast; you couldn’t even bring me a cup of tea in bed.
Once you’re cleaned, fed and dressed, we wait for the sitter. The hairdresser’s booked and the theatre, a restaurant reservation for one.
This evening, when I’m calm again, we’ll look through the photographs. “Who’s that handsome man with the carnation buttonhole?” I’ll say. I won’t mind if you can’t tell me; my memories of our marriage are strong enough for two.
Compassion Disjunction by Pat Cummings
“Attacks Against Schoolgirls on the Rise” he reads, and sips his coffee. Next page of the paper, he sees “University Shooting Victim Left Paralyzed”. He brushes bagel crumbs from his shirt; they land on the page over “Racial Slurs Written on Stabbed Woman’s Body”. He shakes the paper, flips to the international section. “Jordanian Pilot Burned Alive in Shocking Video” provokes a “tsk” as he takes another sip of coffee. He scans onward.
With his last sip of morning coffee, his throat closes, and tears spring to his eyes, as he reads “35 Cats Dead in Weekend House Fire.”
Her Worth by Charli Mills
The old mare hung her head low, lips quivered above grass-forsaken dirt, ribs protruded beneath a swayed back. She was broken.
“How much you want for her,” asked the Fed Ex driver.
A lean cowboy scrawled his signature for his box. “That nag?”
“That our wine?” A beautiful woman stepped out onto the deck.
The cowboy winked at the Fed Ex man. “There’s a beauty worth buying.”
“Can’t afford that one. How much for the horse?”
He knew his boss would ask how a starving mare got into the back of his van, but already her ears had perked.
No One Should Have It Coming by Amber Prince
“He’s a troublemaker.”
“He has been in trouble before, but I wouldn’t call him a troublemaker.”
“Does it matter? It wasn’t that big of a deal.”
“It does matter, it’s a big deal, he came to you for help and you ignored him.”
“I heard what he had to say, but how was I to know that the other kid was going to actually do something? That one is a good student.”
“What do you want me to say? That I’m sorry? Fine, but the boy had it coming.”
“You’re wrong. No one should have it coming.”
Lucky by Nicky Torode
He etched the final day onto his wall. As he walked out the gates, he drunk in the sunlight like he had done 15 years ago. The first thing he’d promised himself was to go to 289 Phoenix Road – the destination he had been planning for 14.5 years. As he approached the building, he saw the man’s familiar silhouette opening his door. This was his lucky day. Picking the lock, he entered. He pulled out the paraffin, struck the match. This is for me and the other innocent ones you got locked up, he yelled, free at last.
Merlin Learns a New Way by Tally Pendragon
Anna thought and worked quickly, stanching the flow of blood with a cord around the man’s leg, patching up the gash the falling masonry had made, and being sure that he was safe, in mind and body, before moving on through the mass of poorer dwellings all huddled together like shy schoolgirls.
“Next time you can do the healing, Merlin!”
“Did you think yours was to be a watching ministry while you’re with us?”
“But surely healing’s for women.”
“Healing’s what the ministry’s all about, whether you’re man or woman, Merlin. Get used to it, or go home!”
Invisible by Sarah Brentyn
“We’re late!” Jeremy snatched his coat from the closet. “Mum!”
“I know! Stop…stop yelling. We’ll be right there.”
“Mum, seriously! Coach will bench me!”
The clicking of cleats on tile echoed down the hallway. Jeremy’s face tightened with each step. He swung into the kitchen, “If I have to sit this game out I’ll…”
His mother sat on the floor stroking his little brother’s hair as he reached out again and again, touching the edge of the countertop. She didn’t look up. “We’ll be right there.”
“No, it’s good.” Jeremy crouched down. “We’ll go when you’re ready, okay buddy?”
A Plate of Food by Ruchira Khanna
Sarita opened the door to her maid, who had brought her kid to work.
“He is my son; Jay.” introduced the maid in pride.
“Friend’s?” Sarita’s son, Hari extended his hands towards him.
“Sure” nodded Jay and they walked towards the toys.
While playing, Sarita brought a plate of food for her son.
Jay pretended to play while Hari was being fed. Just then, a morsel came towards him.
He looked up to see Hari’s hand holding a snack.
With moist eyes, he took the grub and soon both the boys were munching and giggling away.
Compassionate Neighbours by Susan Zutautas
Easter was approaching and there was barely enough food to feed the family of six let alone get the children any chocolate eggs or bunnies.
Stop worrying Agnes, surely some work will turn up soon, said Roy.
Normally he was right but Agnes felt deep in her heart that this year there’d be no ham on their table for dinner.
It was Good Friday and Agnes heard a knock at the door. No one was there but there was a fairly large box sitting on the porch. It was filled with food, chocolate, and a ham.
Agnes’ heart melted.
An Arm Outstretched by Geoff Le Pard
‘Your mum never knew.’ Mary’s Aunt Gloria sipped tea. ‘About the twin.’
‘I don’t know her name. Sharon was your imaginary friend.’
‘Do you know what happened to her?’ Mary shivered; she hadn’t told Gloria about the bones in the garden. ‘She is dead, isn’t she?’
Gloria sighed. ‘Have you asked Rupert?’
Her hated half-brother.
Gloria wiped her mouth. ‘This is killing you, isn’t it? Come on, let’s go and see him and get to the bottom of all this.’ She enveloped Mary in her grandmotherly bosom. ‘Poor thing. Your dad was many things, but not a monster.’