On May 1, 2017, late-night comic and celebrity influencer Jimmy Kimmel tearfully announced to the world that his son William John Kimmel had been born on April 21 with a pre-existing condition in the form of two life-threatening heart defects requiring immediate surgery. His newly-born son survived the three-hour procedure.
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Kimmel used the traumatic incident as a teachable moment to help Americans ' better understand the potential consequences of failing to adopt an adequate national health care program. Being a wealthy man with a published net worth (in 2017) of $35 million, Kimmel could afford the best care available for his son and might easily have kept silent about the matter. But compassion convinced him to avoid apathy and consider the plight of those in similar situations who do not possess his wealth:
“We need to take care of each other. I saw a lot of families there [at the hospital] and no parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child's life. It just shouldn't happen.”
Think of Kimmel’s words (spoken in 2017 but so applicable in 2021) in the context of: the global immigration crisis, the unhinged assassins whose supposed religious radicalization is often traced back to documented mental disorders, the feverishly-toiling single parent attempting to hold down two or three jobs to earn the equivalent of a living wage, or the child-turned-killer-soldier who one day will look back on his life and wonder why he was never allowed to be a child and how can he now reconcile himself with the blood that haunts his sleep. In such contexts, Kimmel’s words hit home with ferociously bitter truth in many different cultures and languages.
Moreover, compassion was not only something he extended to others. It was a grace many through social media in turn extended to his family in the form of prayers (regardless of religious affiliation), emotional support (demographic classification notwithstanding), and simple hopes for the best possible outcome pending future surgeries for his newborn.
Unlike Kimmel, most people do not have millions of dollars at their disposal to guarantee the best healthcare for those they love. Still, the comedian’s candor reminded us of a truism too often forgotten: Just as the richest, most powerful and famous among us can be humbled by painful mortal circumstances, so too can the poorest among us harness the powers of collective will and wisdom to impact patterns of history and human behavior for the better.
Compassion as a Birthright
Back now to that 91-degree Fahrenheit day in July when I entered the world: Had someone cared enough that my mahogany-hued mother could not afford a doctor's attention or a hospital's clean cool room at the time of my birth, they might have been compassionate enough to somehow make facilities available anyway. Perhaps they might have done the same for any number of women along with the babies--Black, White, Brown, Red or Yellow-- they were ushering into the world.
It would have been a kind of good karma for her because she had maintained a home which helped make it possible for numerous extended family members to relocate from the more virulently racist rural areas of Georgia at that time to a somewhat less-aggressively-racist urban center.
Compassion on every side of any given fence, wall, or border can provide a route to mutual understanding capable of voiding the source of destructive conflicts within a community or between nations. But what we call compassion does not weave itself out of particles of nonexistence and then ooze through veils of reality to reshape our consciousness. It is something to which we have to assign concrete value and then invest in the same in such a way that it is not diminished by: threats of war, xenophobia, hate, or the unavoidable demands of change created by history.
We may then, throughout various stages of our lives, proclaim compassion as a kind of birthright, or as an essential tool capable of correcting an onslaught of modern-day wrongs: be they the kidnapping of 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria, the displacement of populations seeking refuge from war and starvation, or the unresolved questions and decisions spinning like lost comets within the universe of our collective soul.
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.