Everyday compassion for the dead—and the living | Religion News Service

By Omid Safi

August 24, 2012

The image is a simple one, poignant.
There, slouched over on the chair, is an elderly man.
He’s not resting, nor is he asleep.
He has just died, right there in the middle of a busy Chinese station.

The crowd gathers, many overcome with astonishment.  Many are shocked, and the looks on their faces reveal their awe that in the very midst of their hustle and bustle, they stand in the presence of death.   The fabric of their mundane life has been shattered.

And there is the monk who decides not to be compassionate by proxy.

The monk reaches over to the newly deceased, putting his hand on the departed, and stands there praying.

There, on the monk’s face, is the look of utter serenity.   His reaction is not based on his own emotions, but based on that highest of imperatives:  compassion.

He cares not about what gender the deceased is, his religion, his wealth, his race, or his color.   All that matters is compassion, then and there, here and now.

The image has stayed with me, for it serves as a powerful reminder.
All of life is like this, here with us:  the joys and horrors of life, birth and death, heartache and healing, shattering and prayer.
All of this takes place in the very midst of our day-to-day life, not somewhere outside of it.

We have a choice, whether to be compassionate here and now, to all around, or to be a mere bystander.

The departed man deserved compassion, and prayer.
The living deserve no less.

Be here.

Live this Compassion
For all around.

Omid Safi is a Professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and classical Islam. An award-winning teacher and speaker, his most recent book, “Memories of Muhammad,” looks at the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad.