“He’s breathing heavily, his hands on his hips, his eyes piercing me like knives. I don’t just see anger in his expression. I see a hell of a lot of pain.”

In Chapter Twenty-Seven, after Ryle attacks Atlas in his restaurant, Atlas reflects on how much pain Ryle is in and tries to understand how to reason with him. Ryle has come to wreak havoc on Atlas, punish him out of intense jealousy, and cause both Atlas and Lily further pain. It is natural to expect that Atlas would respond in turn: with anger and violence. Given how angry Atlas is at Ryle for hurting Lily, it takes everything Atlas has to respond compassionately to Ryle. However, he practices patience and digs deep within himself to find a way forward. He tries to understand Ryle’s pain. Even though Ryle has caused immense pain, Atlas is able to hold Ryle’s humanity in mind. Because of his commitment to peace, compassion, and understanding, he calms Ryle enough to take the first steps on a path forward out of violence and towards peace.

“I can get you a to-go box if you want to take it with you.”  

She nods quickly. “I’d like that. It’s always been my favorite dish.”  

“I know. I remember Cape Cod.” I take her plate to the kitchen and prepare it to go.”

In Chapter Thirty-Three, even though it’s been years since Atlas spent time with his mother, he makes Sutton her favorite food. Atlas has a single positive memory from his childhood, which was Sutton taking him to Cape Cod where they had coconut shrimp. In this scene, Atlas lays down the law with Sutton, stating that he will do whatever it takes to get custody of Josh. However, though he’s setting firm boundaries, he still responds to her with compassion. By cooking Sutton’s favorite dish for her, Atlas is pointing out that despite the years of neglect, he remembers this one moment of kindness. Though Sutton is reluctant to accept his care and won’t stay to eat the dish in front of him, she does take Atlas’s food with her, suggesting acceptance of Atlas’s compassion and the fact that he’d be a better parent toward Josh. Afterward, Sutton agrees to give Atlas custody of Josh, ending their family’s cycle of violence.

“And it was a knowing hug, too. It was like he carried this genuine sorrow for me, and I felt that in his hug. Like he was encouraging me, or comforting me.”

In Chapter Thirty-Six, Jenny, Lily’s mother, tells her a story from Lily’s childhood that Lily didn’t know. When they were teens, Jenny caught Lily and Atlas asleep on the couch together. Despite the potential danger he was in should Jenny tell her violent husband about Atlas’s presence, Atlas hugged Jenny out of empathy toward the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband. Jenny feels his understanding, love, and compassion in the hug. What’s more, Jenny felt encouraged to move beyond the violent marriage and to seek something better for herself and her daughter. This hug is one act in a long line of compassionate acts by Atlas that has led all of them away from pain and separation and towards love. Jenny finds herself in a loving relationship. Lily finds herself with Atlas again, building a life on the kind of compassion Atlas showed her mother all those years ago.