broadsideblog

One Suburban Mom, One Injured Teen — Compassion In Action

In behavior, women on June 1, 2010 at 10:27 am
Reflection of a heart

Image by Nganguyen via Flickr

I like this story a lot, from The New York Times. It’s about a young man, Alex Carno, whose leg was shattered by a bullet who met a suburban Mom when he was in rehab:

With dizzying speed, the pace of his life slowed to a crawl. It now takes patience no teenager has to move to the door with a walker, to wait for a visit from a friend, to wait for someone to call someone who could arrange for the right paperwork.

But once or twice a week the phone rings or the apartment ringer sounds, and a woman with no official title or longstanding relationship to Alex tries to move his life into fast-forward.

Jenny Goldstock Wright met Alex in the recreation room of a Westchester rehabilitation hospital where her grandfather, 95, was recovering from a stroke. It came out that the two men — one young, one old — had both grown up in Harlem, three blocks away and 80 years apart. “It was like he was a neighbor or something,” Alex said.

Bonds form fast in hospitals: Families see each other’s pain and fear, and they understand it, from fierce firsthand experience.

“I just felt instantly he was a good kid, and lonely and scared,” said Ms. Goldstock Wright, a 39-year-old philanthropic adviser who lives in Katonah, N.Y. She doesn’t know all the details of Alex’s injury — he told her he had been shot over a Marmot winter jacket he was wearing — or even much about his past life. (The police said the case was still under investigation.)

“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” she said. “The system’s treating him like a throwaway. He deserves better.”

Real compassion demands action. It’s so much easier to write a check to charity — or not, or to ignore or turn away from another’s needs, especially if they don’t look or talk or behave like us or live in the same neighborhood.

I was a Big Sister for a while, to a 13-year-old girl also being raised by her grandmother in a poor and chaotic household. It’s not easy to enter the life of someone so much younger, make a commitment to them, let them count on you and know you have to keep showing up because they need you. It’s important and valuable and teaches both people a lot about themselves. But it’s challenging and for that reason alone, many people shy away from such intimacy.

I also live in Westchester, whose affluence can be stifling and smug, an insular world of Range Rovers and enormous mansions.

Kudos to Wright for doing the right, kind thing.

  1. Yes, a great story of compassion evidenced by action. Compassion is not just emotion, but that is where it starts. You make a keen observation that might get lost here. We in suburbia are insulated from perspectives and observations that might stir emotion. The story of the homicide in the ghetto might as well be on the other side of the world. If we in suburbia would simply GO and be exposed to the pain and anguish around us, I think a ground-swell of action would result as our compassion nerves would be ripe for action.
    Ever notice how hard it is to turn off the flow of compassion once it starts?! In my experience, purpose is often found in the flow of compassion.

  2. Dave, thanks. I see tremendous disconnection in the suburbanites around me — poverty and struggle are something “out there” when houses in our area cost $300,000+.

    It’s a challenge, then, to make people care about others when they live and work and play in such insulated, comfy lives. Others’ struggles don’t seem real. I see this at my (wealthy() church where the teens “do outreach” and it sounds like doing laundry, a task that will look good on a resume but doesn’t resonate emotionally or matter long-term as a way to be with others.

    Being a Big Sister, only for 18 months, was an eye-opener. But it also made me a little more wary of when and how I help, so that exposure can be complicated.

    I really admire this organic, individual effort I blogged about.

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