When I consider the concept of compassion, I am fairly certain that I only learned to be compassionate by receiving compassion from others, particularly at difficult times in my life. I am not sure I could properly describe or define compassion, other than what I feel when witnessing or experiencing compassion shared by others.
This one patient’s name was Brian. I had come to know his parents and he rather well. Despite Brian’s difficult diagnosis and horrible response to the chemotherapy, without fail, I would enter his room, and he would genuinely ask me how I was and what was new with me. I would try to engage him in conversation about himself, but he would inquire as to how other patients on the floor were doing, showing such care toward his floor mates, who had become dear friends.
I remember realizing somewhere in the middle of the year how truly compassionate the patients on this floor tended to be, and how surprised I was by the compassion they showed toward others. I was expecting a group of (rightfully) angry and sad individuals, and many of them were quite the opposite. And if ever one of these patients was having a difficult day emotionally (again rightfully so), the compassion exuding from the nursing staff helped to support them and lift their spirits.
I realized by the end of my year that I did not need to experience what others were experiencing to have compassion; empathy is not a requirement of compassion. However, I simply needed to allow myself to feel, to experience loss, to grieve and to want to heal, and then those feelings, which were real, despite from where they came, would allow me to have compassion toward others despite our different journeys in life.
Many years later, when experiencing a significant loss of my own, I realized that the road to compassion is not a race, where someone wins. Loss is loss and pain is pain. Challenge is challenge and discomfort is discomfort. The feelings themselves are what open the door to making ourselves find compassion, which ultimately may allow us to feel a sense of empathy, despite our varying circumstances in life.
In this New Year,
Let us find feeling,
Let us learn to grieve,
Let us embrace love,
Let us help to heal.
And then we will better understand
The souls of our neighbors.
Now let the sound of the shofar be heard;
And let our souls be awakened!
Rabbi Debbie Bravo
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