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What Being Mugged Taught Me about Compassion
Michael Chen
Tuesday, November 10, 2015

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What Being Mugged Taught Me about Compassion

It was getting cold in Boston. It was December, and the days were getting shorter and shorter. I was waiting for my bus to go home after my internship working in a rough part of town. I glanced over my shoulder and noticed a man walking straight toward me. His pace increased, and he jumped me. I felt the adrenaline in my body break me free as he grasped awkwardly at my shoulders.

He scoffed, "So you want to play tough, huh?"

There I stood in a moment of sheer vulnerability not of my own choosing, face to face with a young man probably around my age at the time—about twenty years old. In the moment, I regretted my decision to oppose him, for surely he had a weapon and would use it on me.

So I asked him directly, "What do you want?"

It was a simple question, asked out of deathly fear. I could not anticipate what happened next.

He started weeping.

He told me that he needed money to buy his niece a Christmas present. My body relaxed as his aggressive posture subsided into sobs. I opened my wallet and gave him the little cash that I had. I told him that God loves him. He told me that he would pay me back and ran off into the park nearby.

Relieved and grateful for my life, I realized that I had been invited into someone's world of suffering and sadness. I felt more alive in that moment than I had in a long time.

Living Life at a Safe Distance

During that semester as a college student, I had begun to gravitate toward urban living. From the mix of cultural faces on public transportation to the dazzling displays of art and architecture to the panoply of cheap ethnic foods, living in the city felt adventurous. However, all my life I had kept my distance from life in the difficult real world of uneasy tensions and ruptured relationships. Whether this was a self-protective measure learned at an early age living as an Asian in a majority white Midwestern suburb or a predisposition to abstract ideas and concepts or just innate introversion, I can't say [for sure]. But I know that it was not what God wanted from me.

The evening that I was mugged that began to shift. I began to feel something deeply for the people who struggled to live in the city. During my time in Boston, I became interested in learning about urban poverty and socioeconomic injustice.

It took this encounter for me to be fully present to the reality of Christ's presence in the place to which he called me. Nothing that I learned in books or lectures could bring me to a place of knowing the city like the tears of a young man appealing for help for a family member. God's tearful image was right in front of me. I was brought near enough to touch this young man's wound and share something of myself in a very intimate moment.

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