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com·pas·sion (k m-p sh n). n. Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.
The story behind the photo:
As described in Time magazine, the scene Carter captured in his now-famous photograph was one he stumbled across during a trip he made on his own in order to cover the civil strife in war-torn Sudan:
In 1993 Carter headed north of the border with [friend and fellow journalist] Jaoa Silva to photograph the rebel movement in famine-stricken Sudan. To make the trip, Carter had taken a leave from the [South Africa] Weekly Mail and borrowed money for the air fare. Immediately after their plane touched down in the village of Ayod, Carter began snapping photos of famine victims. Seeking relief from the sight of masses of people starving to death, he wandered,into the open bush. He heard a soft, high-pitched whimpering and saw a tiny girl trying to make her way to the feeding center. As he crouched to photograph her, a vulture landed in view. Careful not to disturb the bird, he positioned himself for the best possible image. He would later say he waited about 20 minutes, hoping the vulture would spread its wings. It did not, and after he took his photographs, he chased the bird away and watched as the little girl resumed her struggle. Afterward he sat under a tree, lit a cigarette, talked to God and cried. “He was depressed afterward,” Silva recalls. “He kept saying he wanted to hug his daughter.”
After another day in Sudan, Carter returned to Johannesburg. Coincidentally, the New York Times, which was looking for pictures of Sudan, bought his photograph and ran it on March 26, 1993. The picture immediately became an icon of Africa’s anguish. Hundreds of people wrote and called the Times asking what had happened to the child (the paper reported that it was not known whether she reached the feeding center); and papers around the world reproduced the photo. Friends and colleagues complimented Carter on his feat. His self-confidence climbed. But Kevin Carter was also a troubled soul, struggling with issues such as financial insecurity, drug problems, failed relationships, and the horrors of having witnessed multiple scenes of death — enough of a burden for anyone to struggle with, but in Carter’s case it was a burden made extra-heavy by the critical condemnation heaped upon him for taking the photograph that had made him world-famous:
Though the photo helped draw enormous attention to the humanitarian crisis that was engulfing Sudan, it was criticized by others who felt that Carter should have helped the girl and was instead exploiting her suffering for his gain. The real vulture, they said in vitriolic hate mail, was Carter himself. Some photojournalists might have easily dismissed such criticism, but it hit Carter hard and fed his self-doubts.
On 27 July 1994, barely two months after having received his Pulitzer Prize, 33-year-old Kevin Carter could shoulder that burden no more and took his own life:
The Braamfonteinspruit is a small river that cuts southward through Johannesburg’s northern suburbs — and through Parkmore, where the Carters once lived. At around 9 p.m., Kevin Carter backed his red Nissan pickup truck against a blue gum tree at the Field and Study Center. He had played there often as a little boy. The Sandton Bird Club was having its monthly meeting there, but nobody saw Carter as he used silver gaffer tape to attach a garden hose to the exhaust pipe and run it to the passenger-side window. Wearing unwashed Lee jeans and an Esquire T-shirt, he got in and switched on the engine. Then he put music on his Walkman and lay over on his side, using the knapsack as a pillow.
The suicide note he left behind is a litany of nightmares and dark visions, a clutching attempt at autobiography, self-analysis, explanation, excuse. After coming home from New York, he wrote, he was “depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners … “
It would be easy to feel compassion for the little girl in the photo and, ultimately, we should. How could we not? Can we feel compassion for the man who took the photo and then did nothing to change the little girl’s situation? Maybe that is impossible for some and still hard for others.
I was thinking on what compassion is tonight after reading the following passage from Matthew:
“But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
I am still thinking on it. I am wondering if compassion can take on many faces and levels of degree. I posted the definition of compassion at the top of this post because it resonated with me – deep awareness… wish to relieve it. I can find myself having those reactions for both the child in the photo and the man who took the photo. In different measures.
I think the question that is sticking with me most tonight is this:
When was the last time that I was deeply moved by compassion to make a difference in someone’s life?
How about you? When was the last time you were given opportunity to practice a deep form of compassion?
So what has possessed me to to start running? I can tell you it is not a sudden urge to join a marathon or find my twenties. I am not having a mid-life crisis and there is no new love to impress.
I am learning the ‘joys’ of running as a way to encourage my daughter to keep up her running regime now that her Cross Country season is over. She is much better at this than I am as she has had two seasons to learn how to run longer distances and has spent the last 12 weeks working out every day. Life lesson coming ahead – even those who are more experienced or seasoned still need encouragement from time-to-time.
While I am doing my best to be an encouragement to her and not an anchor that she has to worry about putting CPR into practice over, I am learning a few things about running that apply to life:
- It is easy to be energetic and passionate during those first few steps. I can run with the best of them for about 10 steps.
- It can be very tempting to give up when you realize this ‘run’ is work and is getting harder than it was at the beginning. After about 2 tenths of a mile, I am trying to figure out where I coughed up my lung. It would be so much easier to stop running, lay down on the ground, and call 911 for emergency oxygen than to take one more step.
- Picking milestones helps to break up the bigger run and keeps my spirits up. I have to pick a point about 10 yards ahead and say, “I can make it that far”, and then set the next 10 yard mark after I attain that goal. If I thought about the mile mark when I was still in the first quarter mile, it would be too easy to be overwhelmed at what I am trying to accomplish.
- Keeping a record of how I am progressing from day-to-day, gives me perspective into how I am growing. Setting up some ‘Ebenezer Stones’ called statistics lets me know where I was yesterday, where I am at today, and where I can be tomorrow.
These are some early lessons that I have learned as I have just started on this course of action. I may gain some more insight if I survive the next couple of weeks and I may even post some statistics once I have enough to tell a story.
Recently, I found myself recalling a time when my eldest daughter was just about a year old and my wife was feeding her cantaloupe. My daughter was enjoying the fruit so much that she became upset when a piece fell from the fork and landed on the floor instead of making it into her mouth.
She began to wail incessantly. My wife and I found the situation hysterical because our daughter had never shown this type of passion for food in her short life. We also understood something that she didn’t – we had more cantaloupe to give her. The piece on the floor was not the last piece.
During my recollection, I found myself desiring to hold the 1 year old daughter from my memory once again. As I thought about this desire, I became aware of a distinction between wanting to hold her more and hold her again.
The word more seemed to communicate that there had been a lack of something that needed to be filled while the word again seemed to communicate a desire to celebrate something that had been a joy to experience in the past.
Some examples may drive these concepts home:
- “I wish I had more money… “
- “I would like to visit Disney world again…”
- “Can I have more cheese on my spaghetti…”
- “Daddy, throw me in the air again…”
My desire to hold my daughter in my past was not born from a regret that I had not held her enough at that time in our lives, but instead it was the celebration of how wonderful it had been to experience those moments when she had been small enough to fit in my arms and rest there comfortably.
Our lives are full of moments that we feel lack or the need for more. But they are also full of moments that we can look forward to the ‘agains’.
What are some things that you are looking to celebrate? What would you like to do again? These seem to be positive questions. And while noticing a lack of something can be negative, it can also be an opportunity to realize more. I have found that in Christ I can have abundantly more. That is something that I can celebrate again and again.
So what do you find yourself wanting to do again?
I wrote the following as a response in a discussion that was held on this blog back in 2009 (where has the time gone?)
What if instead of worrying about creating culture, the church focused on actions that reflect God’s holiness? Couldn’t culture then be a by-product of that reflection?
There is a phrase that I read in a book by Jim Henderson and Matt Caspar (Jim and Caspar go to church) that I liked. “Non-manipulative Intentionality”. They used it to describe the relationships that we should have with those people who don’t hold to the Christian belief. I think it may hold to many forms of worship. What I mean is this… what if we were intentional about our reflection of God and our love for one another without a desire to create a reaction in someone else? That way our motivations would be about God and not accomplishing our desires and calling that God’s work.
I would use this example. If I want to show people that I love my wife, the easiest way to do that is to love her in the manner that makes her understand and accept my love. IF, on the other hand, I try to love her the way someone else thinks is an appropriate or acceptable way, I run the risk of making her angry with me which will in turn cause those people who I had hoped to impact wonder what it is that I was about in the first place.
If I just love her and our relationship grows and matures, people will recognize that and may even celebrate the union that I enjoy with her.
I like the word that David used above… peripheral. I think we run the danger of focusing on the peripherals when we should have been focusing on God all along. Its a great discussion because I don’t know that there is an easy answer especially when there is not one set way of worshiping God.
Isn’t it fun to dig up the past and relive something you said there? no sarcasm intended…
The thing that stuck out when I read this was the phrase non-manipulative intentionality. I ran across the phrase, as mentioned in the quote above, while reading a book a few years back and it still sticks with me.
If I had to define non-manipulative intentionality in a positive light it would be – love or charity. If I had to define the greatest form of this phrase it would be grace.
Sometimes I struggle with living/being in a state of grace because I struggle with intentionality without manipulation. I find myself second guessing the motivations behind my actions – am I doing this because I get something out of it?
What are your thoughts? Why do you do the things that you do?
October has proven to be a month of ‘opportunities’ at my workplace. I am reticent to try to guess at how many hours that I have put in at the office and from home. Hours sitting in front of a pc as I am now except those hours were spent scrutinizing data and processes that were failing to meet expectations and then hours of following up with people all over the world to get things corrected.
When people ask me what I do for work, I tell them I am a professional problem solver because it is a far easier way to describe who I am versus what I do. That description flows outside of my work life and into my home life. My nature is to seek answers to questions and problems are just questions looking for the right answers. Whether its fixing a sink that is stopped up, installing shingles on a roof, changing brakes on a car, or even mulling over philosophical questions – ultimately, the goal is to find the solution to the problem.
In the middle of my busyness this month, I did find time to have lunch with the pastor of the church that my family has been attending for the past month. Let me say that we had a great conversation over some pretty decent barbecue. Chris, the pastor, brought up an interesting topic that I have been mulling over since we spoke over lunch.
I believe the words he used were ‘Dialectic Tension’ when trying to explain the unexplainable… or in my words the logically illogical. Or, maybe, an easier way to understand it is the Mystery of Tension within the Christian Faith.
What does that look like? Think about these things that we tend to think of as everyday terms within the Christian faith:
- Christ was fully God and fully man
- God is three in one (trinity)
- Freewill versus Election
- Grace and Judgment
These are truths that on the surface appear to create a schism, a separation, a divide within logical belief. They are truths that some would try to argue stand opposed to each other but in actuality are concepts that stretch our ability to comprehend. They create wonder and awe. They bring the seeker of understanding to a conclusion that they are not a problem to be solved or a mystery to unravel.
If I take the concept of infinity, you will at once understand the concept of the word, however, you as a finite being can never fully understand what it means for something to be infinite. We are conditioned for eventuality – everything in our experience has a beginning and an end. We are born and then we die. We make a sandwich and then we consume it. We go to the movie, and having watched it, we leave the building. In all of those things we experience the finite. Could we fathom eating a sandwich that could never be consumed? Or watch a movie that never ended? Can we truly understand what it means to live forever?
There is a mystery in the tension between these ideas… whether we are talking about infinity or Christ’s deity.
These thoughts are allowing me to be more fully aware that I do not have to solve the mystery of Christ – that I have to fit Him into some manageable explanation.
There is something exciting and liberating about serving a God that is not created in my image but instead stands in mystery outside of my ability to fully comprehend. How do we respond to God like that who chooses to interject Himself into the patterns of our lives?
Good question. What are your thoughts?
Yesterday morning as I was driving to meet with a friend for breakfast, I hit the CD button on my radio and a Phil Wickham song began playing. While I was enjoying the song, I was also wishing that for just a moment I could sing like Phil.
But then I had this thought, one day the personalities will disappear and there will be a great throng that will worship as one before God’s throne.
No more big name worship leaders.
No more famous pastors.
No more published philosophers making the media circuit.
No more TV programs hyping their brand of Jesus.
In short, no more cult of personality.
Just one throng worshiping for the one reason that unites them.
My children returned to school today following what must have been the fastest summer vacation ever recorded in the history of ‘summerdom’. At least my two girls would sign any affidavit to that affect if asked their opinion on the matter. I don’t know how it happens in other places of the world, but in our little slice of heaven, we have to get up at 5:30am… ack.. I just threw up a little in my mouth as I was typing that (fingers can’t puke so my throat and stomach had sympathy pains).
The buses (by the way.. why isn’t buses pronounced in the same manner as fuses? You would think that it should be spelled busses.. but I digress).. as I was saying, the buses pick our darlings up around 6:30am so you can see why it is necessary to rise up so early. I must mention this odd fact as well: the first day of bus pickup is like waiting for the cable guy to show up. Pickup time is in the neighborhood of 6:22am to 6:35am but evidently you can still be standing in the driveway at 6:49am with your school bag, lunch bag, clarinet, and cross country gear with no sign of the bus.
Eventually, instead of waiting for the cable guy…err.. bus driver to show up for my second child, we threw her 250 pounds of gear into the car and I drove her to school. That was at 6:50ish am. By then I had been awake for almost 1 hour and 30 minutes. That is so wrong. I am not a morning person as attested to my staying awake until 1am last night, or uh, this morning in order to encourage the Reds onto a win over the Diamond Backs. I hate those West Coast road trips because they mean the games start much later here on the East side of the country and, historically, the Reds haven’t done so well on those trips. The only good thing about my 270 minutes of sleep last night was that it was preceded by a Reds win which moved them 2 games ahead of those ugly birds from Missouri.
If you are reading this, I would like to know if you are a morning person, and if so, why in the name of all that is good would you admit to such a sinful practice?!
By the way.. I have a few more installments for the Rubber Meets the Road series. I will get them out but I have been taking a much needed break from technology. While I haven’t been writing, I still have been reading some blogs that make me think so take a spin through the following links to see who has been on my reading list lately.
http://www.52prayers.com/: Jessica has been visiting and writing on her exposure to different faiths this year. She is a smart cookie and brings to fore some great points of discussion within our American-Christian context.
http://jamesbrett.wordpress.com/: James is a missionary in Tanzania.. but more than that, he is a great writer and I like the quick and easy manner in which he tackles matters of faith and life.
http://randymorgan.wordpress.com/ : I met Randy in blogland and then had the pleasure to meet him in person while on vacation this year. I really respect his approach to creating dialog about bringing the sacred and secular aspects of christian life into meaningful, kindom-bringing, lifestyle. One day I hope to be in his neck of the woods again so that I can visit his community of believers.