On Compassion

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BARBARA LAZEAR ASCHER
On Compassion
Barbara Lazear Ascher, born in 1946, worked as a lawyer for two years before she became a full-time writer. Her essays, which have appeared in newspapers and magazines, have been collected in Playing after Dark (1986) and The Habit of Loving (1989). She has also written books about her brother's death fi-om AIDS (Landscape without Grav- ity: A Memoir of Grief, 1993) and romance (Dancing in the Dark: Romance, Yearning, and the Search for the Sublime, 1999).

A New Yorkev, Ascher draws her examples for "On Compassion" Ffom life in that city. The briefscenes she describes- the encounter on the street corner, the moment in the cafd-allow the reader to imagine the thoughts and feelings of the participants. As you read, take note of how the specific details of the city enliven her examples and the way that specificity helps the examples to illustrate her argument. The man's grin is less the result of circumstance than dreams or madness. 'His buttonless shirt, with one sleeve missing, hangs outside the waist of his baggy trousers. Carefully plaited dread- locks bespeak a better time, long ago. As he crosses Manhattan's Seventy-ninth Street, his gait is the shuffle of the forgotten ones held in place by gravity rather than plans. On the corner of Madison Avenue, he stops before a blond baby in an Aprica stroller. The baby's mother waits for the light to change and her hands close tighter on the stroller's handle as she sees the man approach.

The others on the corner, five men and women waiting for the crosstown bus, look away. They daydream a bit and gaze into the weak rays of November light. A man with a briefcase lifts and lowers the shiny toe of his right shoe, watching the light reflect, trying to catch and balance it, as if he could hold and make it his, to ease the heavy gray of coming January, February, and March. The winter months that will send snow...
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