Yoko, our stand-offish cat, unerringly finds a cosy spot in which to curl up and dream whatever it is that cats dream. In summer it’s under a shady shrub, but now it’s colder she’s moved indoors, claiming squatter’s rights to the best cushioned chairs or an out of eye-sight heating duct.
Maybe not for cats, but for the rest of us life can be a bit of a struggle. Things like the weather or the economy, relationships that come unstuck or health issues that interfere with our plans, send us scrambling for speedy solutions. Maybe it’s as simple as living with our own complexities. Such things move us out of our comfort zone, that space where we feel secure and protected, somehow in charge. It’s cosy. With the exception of a few brave souls, we prefer to inhabit a world where there is warmth and comfort and let the rest of the world drift by.
If we watch them, news bulletins can sneak up on us and worm their way into that cosiness. This week the earthquake in Nepal has done just that. The media takes us right into the devastation. The piles of crumbling bricks are a chilling image of the ways ordinary families and their everyday lifestyle, have been shattered. Uneasily I wonder how it would be if I was a participant in that tragedy, not a distant bystander. And if I am honest I know which I would rather be.
It’s hard to stay totally indifferent to such human tragedy. We can ask theoretical questions which kind-of justify the cause of the earthquake, the kind that make us feel a little better about our inability to fix it. We can question God with that perennial, ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ Well-meaning people put words into God’s mouth, speaking gravely and authoritatively about sin and punishment or even God’s desire to teach these people – what ?
There’s no tidy explanation for suffering of any kind. We can pretend it doesn’t concern us or we can be open to its challenge. If we open ourselves to the plight of the Naoplese people we have to face our selfishness, our uncomfortable gratitude that it’s not our cosy lifestyle lying in ruins around us, not our children crying for supper. Deep down we are all a little afraid of what God might have in store for us and the havoc it might bring to our carefully constructed lives.
So we can turn off the news or we can keep watching and let it touch us. Generally speaking we feel pretty helpless in situations like this. We give our money to appeals and we pray for those caught up in the disaster and its implications. Both ways require an act of faith, trusting that through the mystery that is our relationship with God and the complexities of overseas aid, we are somehow helping where it is needed.
If we are to understand compassion, then we need to do what it says: under-stand it, reach through the cosiness of our Australian lifestyle and know that there is no them and us, just all of us.