Compassion and Choices


I have been reading this book entitled “From the Ashes” written by Jesse Thistle, a Metis Cree born in Saskatchewan.  “From the Ashes” is a story about the author himself.  He starts from when he was a very young boy, growing up with his two older brothers.  His parents split up when he was three years old.  The boys were with their mother for a short time.

Then, the father picked them up.  From then on, they lived with their father.  It is not clear why the mother did not try to keep her children.  The father was a drug addict and left the boys alone to fend for themselves for long periods of time with no or very little food.  After being rescued by the Police and the Children’s Aid Society, and being fostered for a while, they ended up living with their paternal grandparents in Brampton, Ontario.

Although the grandparents were far from being rich and a bit rough around the edges, they managed to provide a stable home and three meals a day.  But that was not enough to overcome the deep wounds that Jesse had of abandonment.  Early on in school, he started to get in trouble, and it just got worse as he got older.

From alcohol to drugs and stealing, he was clearly falling apart.  All this escalated when he left high school.  Eventually, he ended up living in the streets.  His older brothers do not follow the same path he does and manage to do well for themselves.

As I was reading Jesse’s story, I found myself having harsh feelings towards him.  I was thinking at times: “He’s getting what he deserves.  His brothers are doing ok, and they lived through the same abandonment”.  These feelings of harshness towards Jesse gave me pause to think, reflect, and pray.

I cannot imagine being left to fend for myself as a young child.  As a result of this, deep wounds marked Jesse at an early age.  These types of wounds remain with you for the rest of your life.  Although his two older brothers were also clearly affected by this, they did not end up in the street like Jesse.

Why did Jesse descend into this hell while his brothers rose above it?  Can we attribute it to personality, intelligence?  Maybe he met the wrong people?  Could it be because he is the youngest?

I do not have answers to any of these questions.  After having read the book, I just know there are no easy answers.  Jesse and his brothers were dealt bad hands as kids.  No aces and kings there.  But they each still had a hand to play.  Jesse made choices while his brothers made different choices.

Should I have compassion for the Jesses of this world?  Yes, definitely.  Even if I do not feel it.  Because they each have a story.  A story that needs to be heard.  Do the Jesses of this world have it in them to make different choices?  Yes, definitely.  Even when they have a deeply wounded past; even when their lives are in the throes of despair.  Because each one of them is a child of God.

At some point, when Jesse is about to commit suicide, a shelter worker sees him and calls him out by name.  She has compassion for him.  And Jesse, at that point, chooses life.  It seems like the compassion the shelter worker had for Jesse helped him make the right choice.  Maybe we should all practice a bit more compassion for the Jesses of this world.

Norbert Piché is the Directeur national Service jésuite des réfugiés - Country Director Jesuit Refugee Service – Canada

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 01:26h, 18 June Reply

    Thank you Norbert!

  • Vicky Chen
    Posted at 05:30h, 18 June Reply

    Thank you for sharing this reflection.

  • Karen Arthurs
    Posted at 07:59h, 18 June Reply

    Thank you for this beautiful story, a reminder of how we can all make a difference, if we choose to.

  • Maria Skarzynski
    Posted at 12:08h, 18 June Reply

    I was walking with my dog on a path by the river with a very sore knee 10 years ago. I was in my 70’s then. I knew there was a bench around the corner and I decided to make it to there. There was an Aboriginal man sitting on ‘my’ bench. So I asked him if I could sit with him. We started to talk and spent the best part of an hour there. He told me his life story (much as Jessie) – he cried – I tried my best to help and probably was rather useless at that. Mostly I just listened. The person he remembered most was his Grandma. At the end when I said I had to go, he stood up and gave me a big hug. I still say a prayer for him and he stays in my heart.

  • Viola Athaide
    Posted at 13:41h, 18 June Reply

    Compassion is the key to unlock many troubled hearts.
    Thanks for sharing this story.

  • Margaret Powell
    Posted at 14:44h, 18 June Reply

    I always remember, There but for the grace of God go I

  • Lorella D'Cruz
    Posted at 02:28h, 23 June Reply

    It’s so easy to be self-righteous and judgmental – but imagine yourself in the place of one of the many Jesses in any one of our cosmopolitan cities, yearning for eye to eye contact and a shred of compassion even more than for the few coins tossed with careless indifference into their begging bowls. To highlight their plight, Filthy Rich and Homeless – an Australian TV documentary series – exposed five affluent young people to life on the streets, where they experienced homelessness and basic survival in the depths of winter before returning in ten days to their warm beds and privileged lifestyles. It was an eye-opening gut-wrenching experiment that left its viewers in tears, questioning their deep-rooted views and values. “There, but for the grace of God…” indeed!

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