I never considered myself a particularly spiritual, or for that matter, a religious person. But I’ve found that in writing The Osgoode Trilogy, particularly the third, A Trial of One, that compassion has become very strong theme which runs through all three novels.
I just found this quote from Thomas Aquinas — “I would rather feel compassion than know the meaning of it.” Surely, this must be the difference between the understanding of the head and the heart.
In the first novel in the trilogy, Conduct in Question, we have a man dubbed by the media as the “The Florist” who is a serial killer — so named because he tries to capture the easy flow of the line of the master painter, Matisse, in his carvings on his victims. He is a sadistic killer with an artistic bent.
You may feel [as I do] that the world has plenty of novels with serial killers and so, rather than detailing his rampages, I wanted to add some provocatively human touches to the character of the “Florist.” More than anything else, he wants to experience the emotion of compassion.
When he speaks to his mother, who is long since dead, he says in frustration — “I know what the word compassion mean, mother, but what does it feel like?”
As the story nears its conclusion, the “Florist” gets his wish —a fleeting sense of compassion. About to murder his next victim, John, who is a truly simple soul — the church caretaker — the “Florist” is overcome with a compassionate sense and decides to spare him.
When the Florist silently stepped into the room, a strange sensation passed over him. Was this what Mother spoke of? As if disoriented, he stopped and shook his head. Was this compassion?
“It’s you!” said John, his smile radiating a sweetness the Florist had never seen before. He saw the muscles of the huge man flex; John’s damp white shirt was matted to his skin. He saw the thinning but baby-fine hair, neatly combed in place. Suddenly he saw the simple man as more than an obstacle in his path. He thought that life could not have been easy for such an imbecile. He should be spared. Mother would be proud of his act of compassion.
In Final Paradox, our hero, Harry Jenkins learns that compassion means stepping into another’s shoes and understanding what it feels like. Easy to say — hard to do! When Harry was eight, his father withdrew from almost all contact with his family after the death of Anna, his daughter —Harry’s sister. Now, years later, while his father is in surgery for a brain aneurysm, Harry waits in the Quiet Room trying to understand how his father could have abandoned him as a child.
At the very moment of his asking, Harry gets his answer as he witnesses the following played out before him.
Harry caught his breath. An unearthly wailing came from the hallway. The door to the Quiet Room flew open. A tall, bony woman, wearing a mauve dress and yellow shawl, clung desperately to the arms of two men. One was old and hunched and the other muscular and attentive.
The florescent lighting illuminated the woman’s face raw with agony.
“No! No!” As if possessed, she shook violently and her voice slid up octaves. “By the blood of Christ, no!” Clasping her hands to her ears, she began to moan, her eyes ricocheting about the room.
She screamed at the ceiling. “Why have you cursed me? He cannot be taken so soon.”
Harry pressed his hands against his face. With all his heart, he wanted to pray. He had just witnessed the unholy wrenching of the spirit at the loss of a child, caused by blind hatred. As he touched the tears on his face, he began to understand. “God forgive me,” he whispered. “I have known nothing! My father died along with Anna. I did nothing to help.”
And that’s exactly where Harry begins to understand his father and compassion — by actually experiencing his pain and loss. True, you may study compassion and quote clever sayings about it, but if you never feel another’s pain and suffering in your heart and your gut, as if it were your very own, you do not know what it is.
Do you think some people are naturally more compassionate?
In A Trial of One, Harry’s beloved, Natasha has her own struggles with compassion. She is forced to choose between two people she loves — Harry and her friend Sheila. Natasha recollects a conversation, years back, between her mother, Renee, and her Aunt Mila. The boss has demanded that Renee sleep with him so she can advance in the business.
“Oh, Renee! You poor kid!”
After a long silence, her mother said softly, “Once we’d done it, his eyes looked so sad and ashamed, like being him just wore him down.”
Mila was aghast. “You felt sorry for him?”
“No, not really. But I can see how loneliness can make you crazy.” Afterwards, we talked a bit, sitting on the bed in the motel. He was living all alone there because his wife had run off with the kids.”
Natasha’s compassionate nature makes choosing between Harry and Sheila so difficult for her. Hurt and angry, Sheila has betrayed Natasha who now considers her next step as she wanders the beach.
Natasha turned and walked slowly past the riot of weeds and up to the cottage. Soon she would drive back to the city. She knew Harry was her passion, the one who had awakened her to herself. But she still heard Sheila’s cry — one of all humanity — because it hurts! Sheila’s pain, from fear of loss, was a pain shared by the whole world. She did not reach it by reason, but she knew there was only one thing she could do — act with love, care, and compassion.
Talking about love and compassion… having to decide between two people who love her, [Harry and Sheila] Natasha must find that balance between passion and compassion. Easy to say: hard to do!
Mary E. Martin practiced law in a small-estates firm until 1999, when she became a full-time writer and photographer. Married in 1973, she and her husband live in Toronto and have three adult children. Learn more at: http://www.theosgoodetrilogy.com
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