“Life is short, and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind.” -Henri Frederic Amiel
This quote above is on my kitchen shelf, and it is one of the first things I see each day as I make the morning coffee. It is a reminder not only that life can sometimes have moments of darkness, but it is the simple acts of kindness that can make the difference. A lovely thought to carry me through each day. I wasn’t ready to have it guide me through something more significant.
It seemed like it came suddenly. We are face to face with the extreme fragility of life on a worldwide scale. It isn’t about just one of us or a part of us. It is all of us, and we cannot survive if we refuse to recognize our common bond with one another. If there is a gift in this situation, it is this acute sense of our connection to one another. Given a choice, I think most of us wish this situation would resolve itself quickly so we can get back to life as before. But I have a hunch that life doesn’t exist anymore. We are not going to be able to go it alone, nor in the ways we have in the past. We have a new awareness, and we all are going to need to adjust. The Civil Grace of Compassion is what could help us get through.
Compassion is about acknowledging not only our shared humanity but also our connection with all living beings on the planet. This includes loving and having Compassion for yourself. Right now, our world is going through significant transitions, and most of us feel it intensely. We are living through a time of pandemic, social isolation, and considerable disruption. For many, myself included, just the social isolation part can be too much.
Looking forward to events, celebrating achievements, or just being able to connect with those you love is what makes life sweet. Having that all stop, on top of worrying about how we will survive, can put us over the edge. I find myself busting out in tears at things I usually can handle well and then spend the rest of the day beating myself up for over-reacting. It feels like the game “don’t break the ice” when everything is just one block away from tumbling apart. This energetically wears on us. The places that were part of our “routine” are mostly closed. Resources feel limited because when some take more than they need, there isn’t enough to go around.
And yet, there is an invitation that we can rise together and meet whatever comes before us. Working on a transaction today, I comforted a woman on the phone who cannot be with her dad as he suffers and may die. The sadness over losing a dad is something we share, and just like that, a sacred moment was created that immediately connected two strangers. Compassion is what opened the door, and after I hung up the phone, there was a cardinal singing loudly outside my window…a symbol that always reminds me of my own dad. We are connected beyond this life.
The incredible lessons that are presenting themselves can be transformative if we remain open to them. We cannot go on the way we have and expect to survive. Isn’t this the message scientists and others have been saying for a while now? It took this pandemic to help us see that we are in jeopardy if we don’t adjust and work together for the survival of the planet.
We have to remember deep down who we really are. As French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” We all have the common bonds of suffering, and we all have the universal need for love and Compassion. I think of my parents’ generation and the ones that came before them. They survived world wars, pandemics, and severe economic challenges. I believe what helped them get through was working together, having faith in something larger than themselves, and having Compassion for each other along the way. They reached out to one another and gave what they could. I don’t remember ever hearing them speak of despair because they knew what mattered even if they were quietly terrified of how it might work out.
Social distancing is palpable because we can still “connect” online, but even that has its drawbacks. We are inundated with “news” regularly, and some of this is less than favorable. All too often, we see highlights of a world gone mad with things like hoarding, and in the next moment, we are touched to hear neighbors singing across the balcony to one another. Sharing what we have, even if it is a song or a kind word, sometimes is all it takes. Compassion…the ability to empathize and reach out is how we will make it through.
When we choose to see the world as falling apart, there is plenty out there to suggest we are right. There are still individuals lashing out with their opinions, which in the grand scheme of what is happening, are not necessary. However, if we can view these changing times as an opportunity for us to confront some age-old behaviors and beliefs that no longer fit, well, then there is definitely a reason for hope.
Our modern world, with so much exhausting noise surrounding us, requires that we all do some introspection. That is the gift of isolation. We can’t run and just get busy. We have no more excuses but to observe the contrasts of our lives. In the epic tale of the clash between opposites, Moby Dick, Herman Melville points to the value of opposing views. “To enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.” Neither do we.
We need each other to help wrestle with opposites to find the truths. Living in times of crisis, we learn to savor what life is truly about. We realize that we have very little control over much…except how we show up and the energy we put into the world. Bringing the spirit of Compassion toward this situation is essential. It is something we each can freely give, and it will bring us through. My spirit is in solitude with all of you in prayers that we will weather this together and come out renewed.
Photo credit: Vince Moro–outside of Sumène, France, Fall 2019