Sunrise Dock Talk: Caught in Indra's Net
At 7am on a Bradenton Riverwalk Thursday morning, Crystal Scherer and I opened our eyes wide for the day’s first rays. On the dock next to us, a man sat alone. He engaged us in conversation, telling us it was his first American sunrise in 9 years.
He was a Marine. He’d been in Afghanistan. He hadn't been back to the States once during his tour.
As he was leaving, I said, “Welcome back.” He said, “Oh, no, I’m going back for my tenth tour. The only reason I came back was to escort my brother’s body back home. He died in Iraq. He was 21. I’m 38. I told him not to go to Iraq. But he went anyway, and how could I tell him not to do what I did? I'd be a hypocrite. But I can’t be mad at him. He died doing what he loved.”
The whole earth swelled.
Here was a man who had just been watching the sunrise, listening to country music on his phone, trying to talk to two girls on a dock--and if he hadn't tried, we never would've known the immense weight he carried. We may have assumed this or that and, because our minds were too preoccupied in this or that, we would've missed this man entirely.
Instead, he opened himself to us--and in that generous gesture, we embraced his world. We walked right up close to where the boundary between us and him began to evaporate. We opened our hearts and got right into his experience.
I believe that is the essence of compassion--the ability to step outside yourself and, without comparison for anything, just be with that person, allowing their experience to impact you.
And the thing is, he is all of us. We are all of us him. All of us.
When we just put aside ourselves for a moment and really listen to the person in front of us, really hear their experience, the whole world of humanity opens up—joy, beauty, agony, loss.
We are all just human and here for a bit. And we absolutely never know just who is sitting on the edge of a dock watching the sunrise until we really listen and allow ourselves to be moved.