Arrival in India can be shocking. At least it was for me…
I was 26 years old, traveling alone, naïve and utterly terrified. (My boyfriend and I had just had an epic goodbye cry in the Bangkok airport after a blissful few months of backpacking in Southeast Asia together. I mean this cry was one for the records.)
So there I stood in the Old Delhi Railway Station, sticking out like a sore thumb with my shaggy blonde hair, faded jeans and ribbed tank, carrying a backpack as big as I was, with my tear stained cheeks and swollen eyes. I was trying to make sense of the signs to find my train to Rishikesh but, to my bloodshot eyes, all signs appeared to be written only in Hindi.
I really had no idea what to expect in India and after spending 3 months in Thailand I figured I was an expert traveler and how hard could India really be? Silly me. Nonetheless, my heart ached to know India. I had been fantasizing about this trip for years.
Back to the train station… I had never actually taken a train. I grew up on the West Coast where we mostly travel by car. And I had never traveled alone. I suddenly felt so small, so fragile, so…foolish! I looked out at the sea of women in brightly colored saris, the unkempt children pulling on my legs begging for rupees, the men with turbans, the porters carrying suitcases stacked in piles on their heads while navigating hoards and hoards of people walking in every which direction.
I began to cry. The floodgates were open. The tears flowed and gushed and could not be turned off. I was pretty sure I would disappear forever there in that chaotic frenzy of people in the Delhi train station.
And then, I felt the burn of two pairs of eyes staring at me. I looked up and wiped a mess of mascara and tears from my snotty face. Two adorable young girls stood there giggling. The older girl, who was maybe all of 8 years – looked me straight in the face and asked, “Why you crying miss?” And then more tears came.
These little girls pulled me into a corner of the station where they greeted about 10 of their family members who were all seated on the floor eating out of an array of pots and pans with their hands. The older girl looked at me again, “Miss, please sit.”
I had no idea what was really going on. The girls didn’t speak much English. I watched them speak frantically with an older woman who appeared to be their mother. They were passionate, throwing their arms and dramatically gesturing– probably saying something about this strange white woman with the dirty face and inappropriate clothes who couldn’t stop crying. The mother looked at me, smiled her almost toothless grin, and motioned for me to sit. And so reluctantly, I sat.
She then shoved chapatti and vegetables and dhal into my face while eagerly awaiting my feedback. I ate hesitantly – breaking every single rule for travelers in India – eating local food, with my unwashed hands, on the filthy floor of a crowded train station. I smiled at her and nodded “Oh thank you! The food is amazing!” And it was.
Compassion is defined as the emotion that one feels in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help.
Like friendliness (maitri) which I wrote about last month, compassion (karuna) is one of the four virtues from yogic and Buddhist philosophy. Cultivating compassion is an essential part of living an awakened life. Loving others so much we are moved to help them in any way we can.
Those two girls had compassion for me. They saw my tears and wanted to help. And thank goodness they did.
Their entire family – all 12 of them – walked me to my train’s platform, waited to help me find my seat, showed me how to tie my backpack down with a chain and padlock and gave me explicit instructions about who to trust and when to get off the train – all in very broken English with lots of head nods and gestures. And then, just as my train was about to pull out of the station, the two girls came running down the platform towards where I sat in the train and shoved a bottle of Coke-a-cola through the barred window and into my hand. “A present for you miss! Coke! For you! Bye miss!” And then the tears began again. But this time they were happy tears. Tears of gratitude and appreciation, tears of being touched by the kindness and compassion those sweet girls and their family bestowed upon me – a stranger in a strange land.
Here is the thing, I believe we are naturally compassionate and often inspired to act with great kindness. And then our own fear, judgment and shame creep in and stop us from acting from that beautiful openhearted impulse. We don’t want to bother anyone. We don’t want to be rejected. We are afraid we aren’t able to help. We are too busy. We have enough of our own problems. Nonsense. Those are fear based thoughts and the total opposite of your lovin’ heart’s true nature.
Follow your heart, not your fear.
The next time you witness someone else suffering, notice the spontaneous reaction in your heart. I bet it is a loving response. I bet there is an impulse to help. I bet you are a gorgeous soul with a lot of love to share. Go on and be courageous. Dare to be compassionate. Lead with your heart. Lend a helping hand.
Compassion takes courage. Go on, be brave dear one.
And oh, did I mention that was the best coke I ever tasted?
– See more at: http://www.gretahill.com/blog/2015/04/compassion-coke-and-the-girl-who-saved-the-day#sthash.4MvFxRJK.dpuf