There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 1 John 4:18
As Facebook tells me today is National Book Day, I thought I would write about a book I just finished reading, Just Life by Neil Abramson. Just Life is about a veterinarian named Sam who runs an animal shelter and low-cost clinic in New York City. At the beginning of the book, the lease on her building is about to expire and she worries what she will do with the dogs in her care. Those problems soon dissolve as an epidemic of a virus targeting children and teenagers begins to spread through her neighborhood. The virus is blamed on dogs, particularly stray dogs in Central Park. Along with a priest, a former child psychologist, a young musician and several other interesting characters, Sam must work against time, government officials and public opinion to save the dogs. The book is one of those rare stories that grips you long after the last word is read. Just Life made me think as I mulled over the characters’ decisions like a child with a jawbreaker slowly diminishing as it is swirls from one cheek to another. As the book trailer asks, “When they come for your dog, what will you do?” In the author’s notes at the end of the book, Abramson gives me more food for thought. He writes that when creating Sam’s character, he assumed as he had always been taught, that the opposite of fear was bravery. He believed that those who were brave had no fear. Yet, studies have shown that the people with the highest characteristics of bravery also had similarly high levels of fear. So, if bravery is not the opposite of fear, what is? Abramson believes it is compassion. People who are willing to overcome their fear and be courageous are motivated by compassion. For another human being or for an animal. Compassion leads us to jump into a fight when we are afraid of the outcome. Compassion forces us to leave a comfortable place for a hard one. Compassion is the opposite of fear. Compassion is what leads Sam and her coworkers to save the dogs at great risk to themselves. As Abramson writes, “If you are completely focused on the well-being of another-human or otherwise-then, fear for your own person cannot exist in that space at that same time.” He compares it to sneezing with your eyes open and says, “You just can’t do both.” Our world today is full of fear. People are afraid of many things-loss of livelihood, finances, status in life, their family. When we act out of fear, we often make wrong choices. As we grasp to maintain the status quo, we blame others, we insulate ourselves, we hate, and we are jealous. We spew venom throughout our world. Compassion, also known as love, mercy, kindness, on the other hand, drives out fear and leads us to a greater understanding of others and their suffering. We chose to put others before ourselves. So, which will you chose? Compassion or fear?