CompassionJan 22, 2024
Compassion: A Short Story
I do some part-time work as a professor and counselor at a local college, mainly to stay connected to the world of higher education that has been a part of my life for over 35 years. In my role as counselor, I try to help students overcome whatever it is that stands between them and the education they desire.
I have just about seen it all, through the years. Marriages, divorces, deaths and births, homelessness and addiction, no food in the house. Then there is another tier of complaints, some of which are irritating to those of us who have been in academia for a long time.
In my experience, these barriers to erudition fall into one of two categories. The first is the, “I heard I get free money if I register for college” group. These students range from the cash-strapped but sincere seekers of knowledge who actually want an education and are happy for the various grants and scholarships that may come their way, to those who just want the cash. At one institution where I served as the college president, I remember walking past the desk of a financial aid administrator in time to hear, “Is this where I get some of that free government money?”
These particular fools are soon parted from their money - before it arrives, actually - because there are measures of success that must be satisfied to receive the funds. In some cases, students are required to repay the money if it was not earned. As a result, the opportunistic types don’t stick around for long.
The second type of student that can try one’s patience are the ones who take up space, but aren’t really “into” education. Sometimes they are here because their parents/spouse/siblings told them to “go to college.” Sometimes they are here because they feel that the title, “college student” has some patina of prestige. Most of the time, they legitimately saw a path to a better life but were unprepared - or unequipped - to do the work.
Thus begins a predictable chain of events that inevitably leads to a meeting with me. The chain begins with either excuses (“My mom was really sick”) or outright confessions of apathy and ennui (“I just wasn’t into it”). The lack of commitment (or preparation - the moribund state of public education is nowhere as apparent as in college classrooms) then results in unacceptably low grades and the dreaded “probation” status.
When students are placed on probation, they cannot register for further courses until they speak with a counselor.
And so I found myself seated across from a perturbed student in her 30s, wearing the curious mantle of embarrassment and irritation commonly seen in these encounters. She was well-dressed and well-kept and clearly not happy to be here. Her “How dare you question my intelligence” triggered my “How dare you waste my time” and off we went.
I honestly don’t become overly upset in these meetings after a few thousand of them. I ask what caused the drop in scholastic achievement, in case there is an actual mental, physical or socioeconomic derangement for which I may be of assistance. I explain that academic records follow you forever and should be taken seriously. Then I become a bit exasperated because I could be helping someone with a legit issue. I didn’t go to PhD school (twice) to deal with…
Then I saw it.
There, in her perfectly styled, jet black coiffure, sprang a lone, curly, obstinate silver hair. It was so out of place as to almost have been put there to grab my attention (on further consideration, I’m now sure of it). And instantly, there was a reflexive change in my demeanor.
This tiny strand of keratin, depigmented by the ravages of age and genetics, reminded me in a flash of what it means to be human. And in being human, of how we are all connected in our imperfection, in our struggle to make something out of our brief flash of seemingly meaningless existence.
In that flash, our relationship changed from “counselor” and “student” to two people sitting alone in a room, one maybe a little further down the path than the other. The point of our conversation suddenly went from education and admonition to understanding and assistance.
She left, smiling and relieved, and I was again reminded - again and again and again - to look at others through the lens of love and compassion.
I am a creator (musician, writer, live-streamer and podcaster), entrepreneur, educator and counselor. To learn more about how to use these concepts or to inquire about working with me, you can contact me through my website, the comments section on my Substack or Medium accounts or The Authentic Life Blog page. If you have found value in this article, consider following my Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) accounts. To support this community, you can even Buy Me A Coffee or donate through my Patreon account. Subscribe to my River of Creation podcast - The Podcast for Creators, and my associated YouTube channel, coming later this year, wherever you download your podcasts.
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