A few weeks ago, I was asked an interesting open-ended question: What was my earliest memory of feeling compassion for someone.
I thought about it for a while. I was trying to really remember the first time I had those thoughts for others when I was a child.
And then, I remembered.
Every year, my family and I made the drive to inner city Los Angeles to the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children.
That was its name, they actually used the term – Crippled Children.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It was a beautiful hospital, doing amazing medical miracles for thousands of kids who needed help. And, the Shriners Hospital provided everything – surgeries, treatment, medicines – all for free.
The hospital is still there – but now they’re just The Shriners Hospital for Children.
It was just the way disabled kids were labeled. At that time.
It was really hard for me to enter those big glass doors with that title scripted on them with such an elegant font design. I never thought I was crippled – it wasn’t how I was being raised. But every year, going to the hospital that labeled me in that way, well, that was tough.
We made our way to the basement – that was where CAPP was located. CAPP was my department – the amputees’ wing of the hospital. I knew exactly which way to turn, which elevator to use. I was a pro.
One particular visit, we made our way to the CAPP offices, checked in and then sat down in the waiting room. We were there for my yearly check-up – I was even going to be evaluated to see if it was time for a new prosthesis.
And then I looked up.
And I realized something. I wasn’t the only patient waiting in the waiting room.
There were other kids there, too.
And, they were missing their arms. And legs.
In fact, I was the only one in that room that had three of my limbs.
I was shocked looking around. Kids walking on their knees with shorter arms than mine.
Some kids were actually admitted to the hospital after having an amputation surgery and were just down in the basement to see what their new limb would look like.
My little mind was blown. There were kids worse off than me out there. Way worse off.
There were some younger kids in the waiting room, too. They were actually looking at me, looking at my prosthetic arm – seeing how it worked. Thinking that they could maybe use their prosthetic like I did.
I let the younger kids come over to me – all the parents in the room glued to us. This was a social experiment that just kind of came together on its own.
They asked me questions. I actually had answers. They touched my arm. We laughed together.
Then I took off my arm and we all compared our “little limbs”. Who had the funniest looking fingers, who had the shortest limb, who was the most double-jointed.
It was eye opening. And I realized that I had been living in my little “one-arm bubble”. I wasn’t the only one.
And at that – there were so many others who had such a harder road to travel than me. That was the time when I realized that I was actually blessed to have as much little arm as I did. And so blessed I had my other arm, and legs.
It changed me. I didn’t feel labeled anymore. I didn’t feel alone in this limbless world of mine. In fact, that was the time when I realized I could even possibly help. Help encourage others who were struggling.
Maybe, if nothing else, I could crack a one-arm joke and make someone laugh.
So, in the basement of the Crippled Children hospital I found compassion. I found a little bit of the human condition.
And, I decided to be a part of it.
Don’t let yourself be labeled. Instead, embrace who you are, free of limitations and constraints and look up once in a while. Transform the waiting room you might be in right now and do a little evaluation of yourself. And then see who is sitting in the chair beside you.
You are not the only one out there. People need you. Share your story. Learn theirs. Break the ice, offer some compassion.
You never know – you might just turn the waiting room into a living room.