I had a somewhat eclectic education, and as a grade school child I was tasked with memorizing The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. So you too are not forced to wrap your head around this epic poem, and for the sake of my tale, I’ll summarize. The poem tells of an old sailor that’s impelled to continuously accost passers by and tell them his tale of how his misdeeds doomed a ship and crew to destruction, and how from that he learned to act with compassion. Why do I mention the poem? Because I’ve just lived it, or sort of. Your call.
I’m in the process of ending a six year relationship with someone. I’m not seeking judgement here, I accept my share of failures in the relationship, perhaps even the larger share, but for the sake of this tale it’s worth noting that they had chosen to end things and left. So when they ended up sick in a foreign land, Greece, and turned to me, some very sane people asked me, well what’s that to you? The poem didn’t come immediately to mind, but when I decided to help the person get back from Greece, I did find myself compelled over and over to explain the situation, and the image of that ancient mariner telling his crazy tale to one person after the next seemed on point.
This wasn’t going so be a simple case of sending a bit of cash you see. They’d ended up twice in the hospital, were diagnosed, treated and recuperating, but were simply in no shape to travel on their own. Any option I could find to get others to help, US Embassy, insurance, private medical evacuation, all seemed to end in being stuck alone in Greece for an indeterminate length of time, and at huge cost… so realistically someone just had to go there and bring them home. And that someone really was, for a number of reasons, me. So I did. I flew to Greece, organized the return trip, and flew them back. A three day world tour, NYC, Amsterdam, Athens, Rome, NYC. And it was touch and go at moments. Getting to the airport, through transfers, customs, and back home, with someone so exhausted that five minutes on their feet left them dizzy and shaking like a leaf, and with a stomach so weak that any peculiar smell had them gagging and even vomiting, was tough. But we got back home.
So, as I said, at first I recalled the poem because working through the logistics of missed work, travel plans, finances, etc., I was accosting one person after the the next, having to explain why I was doing this seemingly crazy thing. But now, with it done, I think maybe too, the poem came to mind because of its conclusion. I’m not sure I even consciously understood it as a child, but the message, to live compassionately, is pretty clear:
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
While I didn’t magically repair the relationship, or bring about any great change to my life, the fact that I acted compassionately and resolved at least this one crises in a good way… well that part feels deeply right.