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Nate and the Whale

Ark Spiritual Directors' Article    


Dear Friends, 


In the opening pages of her book, Field of Compassion, Judy Cannato recounts an incident that happened a number of years ago on a beach in Cape Cod.  Nate Spears, a landscaper, was inspecting a pier when he noticed a 10-foot pilot whale headed toward the shore, and close behind, a second and third whale.  He realized they were going to beach themselves.  He waded into the water and approached the first whale.  The whale’s body had several lacerations due to thrashing against the sand.  Nate instinctively placed his two hands on the whale and held them there. Gradually, the whale stopped thrashing and became still.  Nate then realized that this was his first encounter with a whale and surely the first time a whale encountered a human being.  Each was operating on instinct, yet trusting the other.  Nate slowly turned this whale around and in the same manner, the other two, heading them back out to the sea.  This encounter between Nate and these whales changed the direction for what was about to happen; his compassion met the whale’s receptivity and life was saved.   


That story spoke volumes to me and led me to that famous Cursillo saying, “Make a friend, be a friend, and bring that friend to Christ.”  Can you imagine what might have happened if Nate had approached the whales, yelling, waving his arms or even trying to push those enormous creatures away from the shore?  It’s easy to imagine what would have happened if Nate had stood by watching the inevitable happen with curiosity or mere sympathy rather than compassion.  How did Nate know what to do?  A mixture of instinct and compassion; gifts that are part of being human.  


Yet some of us still find ourselves hesitating in the face of a situation that needs to be changed, a loved one who is making poor choices and/or a person in need of our support or friendship.  “It’s none of my business.”  “I don’t want to come across as self-righteous.”  ”He/she may never talk to me again.” “I don’t know how to start the conversation.”     


Compassion is a divinely given trait that we share, to some degree, with all living creatures.  Yes, plants, animals and people are capable of both giving and receiving compassion.  We are touched and healed when others show compassion to us and we feel a bit more whole and human when we extend compassion to others.  The Latin words are com passio and they mean “to suffer with,” or “to feel deeply with.”  That’s a clue to beginning an encounter with someone: whether they are consciously suffering or heading in a selfdestructive direction.  Yelling, scolding, shaming, or applying guilt will not work; these only cause (the whale) to be more disoriented, to resist or to launch forward out of fear, confusion or anger.  


Making a friend is natural, instinctual.  With a heart of compassion and kindness we reach out to another because we know that being human can be very difficult at times and everyone (including ourselves!) can get discouraged and misdirected.  Being a friend means being a steadying presence in another’s life at least until they can get reoriented and reassured of their belovedness. Then maybe, by the grace of God, such a friendship may become mutual – but that’s a perk that doesn’t always happen. Bringing that friend to Christ means, at the deepest level, to the freedom, joy, peace, light and love that Christ wants all of us to have.   


 At times we are Nate and at other times we are that (almost beached) whale. Let’s hold hands through these turbulent times, giving and receiving the compassion that will save us all!  


Much love,  

Sr. Edna


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