The Week of Systems

 “God is making room in my heart for compassion.” Though these be the words of Howard Thurman, my soul joins in the sound. “God is at work enlarging the boundaries of my heart.”

This week, with a learning theme of systems, we played monopoly. Split into teams of two, my housemates and I were placed around the coffee room table. My partner and I were on the floor, the board game out of arms reach and the couches made off-limits. We were given one condition: no matter what happened, we’d be good sports and stick with the game until the end. Never in my 21 years had I finished a game of monopoly. Suspicion crawled beneath my skin.

Play started as normal. We bought up the properties we landed on. We passed the dice, took our turns. Then, we crossed Go. We were the first and were handed a meager $50. A born competitor raised on fairness and the rules, I’m up in arms and protest. But the banker says no. But the play continues anyway.

Somewhere along the way, the other two teams caught on. My mind is turning—they can enforce the rules, they can shift the balance, they can bring equality to this chaotic game. Somewhere along the way, they try, they do. Money is passed under the table, out of sight of the banker bent on keeping us playing by his rules.

And it feels right—this money, this taking to fill the gap of what we know we should have. It feels like compassion. It feels like the words of Howard Thurman, the ones I began with, of “that awareness that where my life begins is where your life begins; the awareness that the sensitiveness to your needs cannot be separated from the sensitiveness to my needs; the awareness that the joys of my heart are never mine alone—nor are my sorrows.”

But this feeling floats away. It’s gone as the rules are bent for the upper-class team and our money is swallowed by a system pitted against us.

They open a charity fund and I find myself wishing they wouldn’t. Wishing the money would stop being tossed at us. Wishing they’d hold on to it, grasp it, play into the roles they’d be given. Couldn’t they see? It didn’t matter, their money. It simply didn’t stop the commentary of the banker condemning our slow play. It didn’t touch the extra rules put atop our ability to build houses and collect rent. It didn’t change that they had the ability to get out of jail immediately and indefinitely. Their money didn’t fix the system. Their money only prolonged our suffering.

“I struggle against the work of God in my heart; I want to be let alone. I want my boundaries to remain fixed, that I may be at rest.”

I was exhausted. I was tired. I simply wanted out. I told them to close their charity foundation. I told them to keep their cash. I told them to take advantage of their position and annihilate us. That way we could go to bed. That way, I could close my eyes and let this drift away.

And I did. But I awoke to the taste of vomit in my throat. To the reality that the game would have been better off being called Life.

My compassion tastes of green paper tips I make serving drinks to golfers. It’s the texture of throwing bills in the air to shrink a gap that’s deepening, that’s widening. It’s charity, its tears, its comfort to me but perhaps unkind to you, whose face I do not know. My compassion tastes of pity, of sorrow, of wanting to help but feeling paralyzed by systems that engulf and bend and reform, everlasting—or so they seem.

“Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them. So, spread love everywhere you go”        A Gift for God, Mother Teresa

What if compassion isn’t green, the color of money, of growing disparity? What if it’s red, the blood we bleed, the beat of our hearts? What if it’s a smile to a stranger sitting on their stoop? Perhaps it’s as simple as a question—a  hey, how are you? And this time, I’ll listen, I’ll sit.

Your face becomes familiar. Your story becomes touchable. Suddenly, the injustice of incarceration is your face, your father’s life and your pain. The news of an undocumented man sent away is my friend’s news—now my news, too. I find I can pray for systems that churn and crush and rumble when I see your face, hear your voice, and hold your hand, too. You are a human, beautifully woven together, a unique song God loves to listen to. You are my mother, my father, my brother and sister, my neighbor and friend. And here I am, healing as I am, listening too.

Love always,




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