Pictures of Compassion

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I was sitting on a plane next to a mother and daughter. The mother’s hands flailed as the daughter kindly pats her arms to calm her. She adjusted the headrest with care. Then, she cut her mother’s food and fed her like a child. it was a striking and beautiful role reversal of a child parenting the parent. I wondered when or if this will happen for me and I was scared of the thought, as I admired the woman for her compassion and selfless love.

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A friend has lovingly looked over her mother who has been on life support for a decade. She bathes her, performs physical therapy, feeds her, speaks lovingly to her daily. I am amazed by her compassion. She holds out hope that one day her mother will speak again. Every day she looks for signs of renewed life. Her compassion and hope is beautiful to me.

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A man picks up an ant from the pool where it struggles to survive. He lets the ant crawl all over his hand, moving fluidly with the ant. After a few friendly moments, he lovingly places the ant on the grass nearby. His act of compassion towards such a small thing reminds me to be kind to every living creature.

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There is a girl on the phone with her father. She is crying. “You’re the best dad ever. I love you. You’re the best dad.” She kept repeating in between sobs. She hangs up and sits there crying. The man who is with her hugs her. She sobs onto his shoulder. Her back rises and falls with her grief. He leaves to use the phone and she continues to cry. A woman walked up and placed the flower she had in her hair on the table as she walked by. A small act, but significant.

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Compassion takes courage. Dealing with someone else’s pain that is not necessarily our own is uncomfortable. We have to go outside our comfort zone in order to comfort another. Compassion is a practice of just being there, being understanding and giving love. Compassion is achieved with an open heart and loving intentions. If looked for it is everywhere and proves that deep down, humanity is good.

True compassion means not only feeling another’s pain but also being moved to help relieve it.  – Daniel Goleman

Compassion and Empathy

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I spent the last few days in a community that showed up and had the courage to make room for empathy and compassion. The Valley Fire, in Lake County, California started on Saturday afternoon and grew rapidly burning several homes and displacing thousands.

There was such an outpouring of generosity, support and love for victims of the fire. Some people just wanted to have someone listen to them and spoke about their loss, fear and even hope. As they spoke, I could feel the inner stirring of compassion. I wanted to say the right words, but realized that I needed to just listen.

Others needed basic items like a toothbrush and a pair of socks. “All I wanted was a pair of socks, the weather started getting cooler and I found myself fixating on socks” a women told me as we searched for clothing in her size. She was thrilled to find a pair of socks and smiled with tears in her eyes.

I thought about the socks I was wearing and wondered if I had ever felt that much gratitude towards them or any of my clothing. That moment, I offered gratitude for my socks and realized that every little thing is precious; even socks.

Every day, several people just wanted to help those in need. People from surrounding communities held fundraisers and clothing drives. Deliveries of donated goods showed up by the truckloads. Everyone seemed to want to help. People who had been evacuated and then returned home, turned around and volunteered. It was truly amazing to witness.

This experience left me in tears several times. I did not understand exactly what it felt like to lose things in a fire, but I understand loss at a visceral level and was able to extend empathy. I noticed the same from other volunteers who extended themselves vulnerably to meet people in the midst of their pain.

Through compassion and empathy, we are able to connect with people on a deeper level. The ability to be there and stand in the discomfort with another person while they hurt is powerful. I recalled the people who have extended compassion and empathy towards me in the past and was able to overcome my initial discomfort because of those examples.

Loss isn’t easy. This fire left many people without homes and communities need to rebuild from the loss. However, seeing the humanity, compassion and empathy displayed so greatly reminded me that overall, people are good. Sometimes, in the face of suffering we shine our brightest for its in the darkness that our lights are needed the most.

 

Note: The efforts to help restore the community as well as continued firefighting efforts are ongoing. If you would like to help from afar, here is a great website with a list of needs and locations for donation drop-offs: www.lovelakecounty.org