June 2020: Compassion

The Hard Work of Compassion
A couple of days before I learned that this month’s theme was “compassion,” my sister had sent me a message about combating “compassion fatigue.” She is a veterinarian in Texas and has struggled with how to stay positive when having to euthanize pets, day in and day out, while comforting their humans who are sick with grief. It requires a tightrope act of trying to ensure the medical procedure goes smoothly and simultaneously providing therapy. It’s been over 20 years since she began practicing medicine, and it has never gotten easier for her. Now, amidst the pandemic, her anxiety is even higher while her compassion reserves are depleted.
This did not surprise me. The word compassion itself comes from the Latin cum (with) + patior (suffer, endure). Truly taking on the suffering of another during moments of grief, death, sadness, or fear is certainly exhausting work. Some say she should learn how not to care so much, but that doesn’t feel right.
I was reflecting on all of this because “misery” is not what springs to mind when we hear the word “compassion.” In the introduction to this month’s theme in Soul Matters, the message reminds us that, “compassion sounds…..well, nice. It conjures up a bunch of warm feelings.” In other words, we generally think of it as a positive emotion with little downside. The authors continue by explaining that “compassion is not just a matter of niceness and thoughtful feelings. It’s a deeper type of feeling that drives us to action.” We take on the pain of another and do what we can to make it stop, in pursuit of justice. This is noble work, but it is emotionally demanding.
In times of crisis such as we are in now, it is important to recognize the necessity of compassion, with all of its emotional and spiritual demands. We should not shy away from it or give less of ourselves because of this. But we must also pay close attention to the toll it takes on each of us as well. As I said to my sister, we need to be honest with ourselves about the suffering we experience when we lessen the suffering of others. We take this on, but we do not have to do it alone. My thought exercise was a reminder that our wonderful church community is there for each other each week, with a candle in hand, to help us magnify our joys, but also to lessen our sorrows.
As we head into the third month of sheltering in place, I wish you the strength to “suffer with” others in our effort to strive toward justice and peace. And when it gets hard, please remember that we are all here to “suffer with” you.
In gratitude,
Jess Miner, on behalf of the Board of Trustees