That may just be the essence of community: I couldn’t let you go through this alone. The first time I heard those words it was a good friend who walked beside me through the most painful experience of my life. We had share some wonderful times together, but then he withdrew for a season from our relationship. I was so blessed we reconnected in the midst of my trial.
One day I asked him why he had withdrawn for a time. His answer? “I could see you were going to get hurt badly and I just couldn’t bear to watch it.”
I understood his comment. He had been through something similar and I knew how painful it was for him to walk with me through mine. I laughed, “But you’re hear now at the worst of it.”
“I know,” he smiled. “I couldn’t let you go through this alone.”
I don’t know a better definition for community. It isn’t always fun and games, but love will not let people go through their darkest days alone. As hard as it may be for us to be alongside, our passion for the person won’t let us be anywhere else.
I was reminded of that recently as I read Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom. It’s an old book I’ve wanted to read for a long time. It’s about a professor dying of ALS, and a former student who comes for the last chapter of his life. It’s lessons from the brink of death and many of them are breathtaking. Even though this man was not a passionate believer, he’d come to believe some things that are pretty consistent with the life of Jesus:
So many people walk around with meaningless life, they seem half a sleep, even when they are busy doing things, they think they are important, this is because they are chasing the wrong things, the way you get meaning in your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you and devote yourself to something that gives you purpose and meaning.
Love wins, love always wins.
I loved the book, enjoyed the lessons, but was most touched by this former student who would come and spend every Tuesday with his former professor in the last stages of his disease. He learned a lot, but also gave a lot—friendship on the brink of death.
At my brother’s funeral a number of years ago one of his best friends stood up at his funeral and said that he couldn’t bear to visit my brother as he suffered the final stages of multiple sclerosis. He wanted to remember him as he was, not in his weakened condition. When he was needed the most he couldn’t bear to go. How sad!
The meaning of compassion is right in the word itself. It means to “come to passion” and passion in the old English meant suffering. It means to run to suffering. To be there at the worst because someone we love needs us there. I love that. A good picture of that are the 9/11 rescue workers who were running into the World Trade Center when everyone else was trying to run out. Compassion means being there when it’s incredibly difficult because we just can’t imagine letting someone we love go through it by themselves.
No one enjoys walking people through dark valleys or through painful reactions, but love says, I’ll be there for you. I may not know what to do or what to say. But I just can’t let you go through this alone!