It means “to suffer with someone else”. Billie Holiday knew it, and folks who listen to her [suffer, long for, regret, and smolder] know something about passion and, therefore, compassion. The Blues are all about suffering out loud. And when you listen to B.B. King, or Muddy Waters, or any of the thousands of Blues men and women, you are suffering with them. One of the first records I bought was a double album collection of Billie Holiday songs. I still have it, but do I ever dust off the turntable and play them? No, but today I am putting this on my do list. #245– dust off turntable. #246– Find the Billie Holiday double album. # 247– Listen to all four sides #248– think compassionate thoughts #249– suffer with her gin-soaked vocal cords and heroin-flushed brain bursts….
I have never consumed gin or heroin, just for the record. Still, at 17 I absorbed her palpable anguish and auditory smoke rings that she blew through my new speakers. Pow! right into my neural network. I recall my mother telling me how forlorn Billie Holiday’s songs were, as if I hadn’t noticed. “Kev, they’re so sad.” I was drawn to the genuine, honest pain in her vocalizations; my mom was threatened by the same feelings. I bought headphones and more sad music– Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Leonard Cohen, Dylan, John Prine. Hours and hours of floating in their vocal landscapes…heroin for my ears, I guess.
Compassion is not a “one and done” proposition. You expand your capacity for compassion, but like psychological manna of some sort, it cannot be stored up. I remember in the old days that you could put a sticker on your front door if you had contributed to the United Way. This was a talisman that told other solicitors to back off cuz “We paid at the Office.” And the proof was this sticker in the bottom left pane of glass of your castle’s front door. Nowadays you don’t get so many door to door solicitations because no one is ever home. Which brings us back to the Blues.
While I am out on this limb, scittering about like a three footed squirrel, the opposite end of compassion is when you try to manipulate it from others. My favorite ploy is the sticker or medallion near your car’s license plate that boasts membership in The Fraternal Order of Police. You place it there so the officer who pulled you over for speeding will see it and feel a geyser of compassion well up in him/her while he calls in your tag number. If you are a Mason, you can wow him with the “G” thing, knowing that a fellow traveler brother won’t ticket another brother traveler. In fact, he might even go back to the cruiser and order a pizza and a six pack as his brain peaks on compassion waves crashing into the pier of his pledge to uphold the law equally and without prejudice. (Watch it shake and roll. Bumper sticker justice, I mean, collusion.) You could wind up in a Bud Light commercial if you play it just right.
Con men play on the presence of compassion in their marks. One of my favorite con men ran scams throughout Pennsylvania before he went to prison for running a cocaine smuggling operation, before he was released early for being a model prisoner, before he got his seventh girlfriend pregnant with his seventh child out of wedlock, before he went to rehab to avoid going to jail again for his third DUI. Yes, a real man. He told me that he liked to trade in his women before they got too many miles on them. “You know, it’s that new car smell. I love a new car and a new woman.” I reframed his comparison. “It sounds to me like you stand in the baby pool of relationships, and when they get deep, you know, require work, you get out of the pool.” He didn’t like reframes; he liked suckers.
His favorite scam took place in some godforsaken small town in the mountains of PA. He and two of his con buddies drove into town and rented an abandoned restaurant for two weeks. They put up signs advertising a new, high end restaurant. “Now Hiring for all positions”. He laughed like Satan as he told about hiring everyone who came to their door. They filled out an application and were measured for uniforms. See, it was gonna be a formal joint. He hated to ask these naive bumpkins for a $35.00 deposit while he ordered their tailor made uniforms. At the end of two weeks, after hiring every person who had $35.00, they put up signs saying, “Bank loan denied. Going out of Business.” The locals came and offered condolences. They asked if there was anything they could do to help. They were so looking forward to an upscale restaurant in their rundown town. Some cried. The con men laughed all the way to their next scam. They would send a check for each deposit, so they promised.
Cops and con men do not suffer with you. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two career fields. They suffer at you. And here is where I must leave this too large topic. “Some other spring… ” I’ll finish this omelette.