Sunday, September 8, 2013

Thoughts on Compassion

Compassion is something I often think about.

I, admittedly, do not have a deep amount of compassion. In fact, I was told by a person close to me that I have less compassion than anyone they have ever known.

Which takes me back to my opening statement: Compassion is something I often think about.

Am I right in my assessment of myself? Was the person right in their assessment of me? By nature I am who I am, so regardless of any conclusions made, I don't regret the innate qualities of my being.

To have compassion is to feel for another in their hardships and struggles. It is also to have a desire to help alleviate their burdens.

Years ago, I was asked by the women's organization of my church to deliver lunch to an expectant mother on bed rest. I, myself, was the mother of a toddler and pregnant with my second child, but I readily accepted the task and prepared a sandwich and fruit. I drove to her apartment and knocked on the door, lunch in hand. When she answered, I looked beyond to the couch in the family room where her husband lay, watching television. I felt used. Why was I - a young pregnant mother myself - preparing and delivering lunch to a mother 'in need' while her husband watched television? And further more, why was she - the one on bed rest - answering the door?

That experience did two things to me. First, it made me realize that having compassion - to me - is not about making sandwiches. It is bigger. It is recognizing real need and being there to offer relief that will make a difference. Second, it has made me wary of accepting help. I fear abusing the beautiful thing that is compassion.

In the years since the sandwich incident, I have grown even more guarded in my ability to give compassion. This stems from personal life experience. I have given birth to a child with severe brain damage. I have watched her suffer through seizures, through pain, through surgeries. Most recently, I have traveled to Africa and seen people living in true poverty - with nothing. I recall seeing a boy with no legs, dragging his body through the dirt street on his hands. As I saw that boy, and as I have watched my own child struggle, my heart has ached. I have wanted to take their pain and whisk it all away. I have wanted to find a way to ease their burdens.

So is it that I don't have compassion? Or is it that I reserve my compassion for where it is truly needed? Often I find myself thinking, "Buck up, get over it, and carry on," when I hear someone singing 'woe is me'. I know it is a fault of mine - I am not proud of my harshness - but I also know that that is who I am. There is a time and a place for compassion; indeed, there is a time and a place for me to have compassion. But there is also a time and a place for personal responsibility and growth. It is through our struggles that we gain strength and character. So it is necessary that people learn to tough it out and carry on, despite the trials they face.

I might not be that perfect friend who checks in on you when you're sick or provides a shoulder to cry on if you're having a rough day. But I will be there when you really need me, I promise. You'll just need to make your own sandwich.  

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