Memorial Day weekend found me in and out of airports as I attended a large family reunion in Tennessee. That meant lots of time at airline gates watching CNN and reading local newspapers.
When I got home I was feeling agitated and not able to sleep. I kept churning over what I had seen and read. CNN Memorial Day stories of veterans, all of 20 years old, trying to re-build lives with artificial limbs. Grieving parents interviewed who had lost their Marine children in combat only days earlier. A story in the Charlotte newspaper detailing how many millions of sharks are captured each year, fins shaved off (for fin soup – a delicacy), and then tossed back in the ocean to die.
What kind of horrible, senseless, cruel world do I live in? And since I don’t believe “everything happens for a reason”, there was no balm to soothe me. I felt helpless and full of despair. And full of plain ‘ole pain.
I went and sat with my spouse and just started to talk. And then to weep for all brutality going on around us. Cruelty that I have no control over. I sobbed and sobbed. All my spouse did was take my hand, and as she cried too, said how glad she is that I have not numbed out. There was nothing else to say.
After a while, my tears subsided and we just sat. I felt a storm cloud had burst, even though nothing else had changed. Our dogs wanted attention, I felt like taking them for a walk. The color in the day returned. I felt oddly lighter, and willing to do the small things I can to “lean into the light”.
I think it’s easy to say we need to live a life of compassion. But to keep my “compassion channels” open, I need to be open to all the pain, even when there is nothing I can do other than to let it wash over me. To seek out a witness to my pain, and be a witness for others. In this case, the practical act of compassion came, not in the form of advice or a volunteer opportunity, rather in the form of simply holding my hand.
And then, during my mediation that evening, I opened to one of Mary Oliver’s new poems in Thirst, called “When I Am Among the Trees.” It ended with words of solace:
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”