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Living a Compassionate Life

Affirmation: I
live a Christ centered life of love, peace, hope, gratitude and compassion.

One of the most
compassionate people I know is my mother-in-law, Yolanda. She’s always been one
of my heroines and an amazing role model. 
I have never heard her criticize anyone. 
And, I’ve known her now for well over 43 years. 

Compassion is
defined as co-suffering but that’s not enough. 
For one to be truly compassionate you must try to do something to
alleviate another’s suffering.

One night we were
watching the TV show The Amazing Race.  I
was visiting Yolanda to help her prepare for her move to Savannah.  (She had lived in the same house for over 56
years and now, at the age of 90 she was moving to an independent living facility
in Georgia.  This was her choice.  She made the decision herself.  I keep hoping that when and if, I’m 90 I’ll
get to choose some adventure on which I want to embark and not have the
adventure chosen for me.)  This episode
of The Amazing Race had a young unmarried couple who were racing from country
to country.  They were doing fairly well
and were leading the race when this episode began.  When the episode ended they were in last
place.  They lost because one of the
challenges was to go down a huge water slide through some sharks and into a
pool.  The young woman of the team was
terrified of heights and sharks.  With
two of her greatest fears combined, she chose not to finish the race.  I was amazed and felt very impatient.  “For heaven’s sake” I thought,
“just get on the slide and get it over with!” Really, it would have
been over in 3 minutes.  And, then there
was Yolanda, “Oh, the poor thing! 
What are they doing?  Why don’t
they just let her walk down?  I can’t
stand to see her suffering so much.” I think if Yolanda had been there,
she would have jumped on that slide and gone down it in place of the young
woman, even though she too is afraid of water. 
Me?  I’m sad to tell you I would
have suggested to her partner to just pick her up, put her on his lap and go
for it.  It really was a wonderful lesson
for me to sit there and share this experience with my mother-in-law.  I don’t think I would have seen it any
differently if I hadn’t been exposed to her point of view.  Then, the final lesson came when the emcee
interviewed them and asked her boyfriend how he felt about the whole
episode.  I thought, “Here it
comes!  He’s going to be so angry!”
instead, he was as compassionate about it as Yolanda had been. 

In Al-Anon, one
of the suggestions given is to learn to take care of yourself.  It’s not an easy concept, especially for
someone who has been caring for a loved one with an addiction.  A lot of the time, many people who attend
Al-Anon are enablers.  One of their chief
skills is taking care of others, sometimes with total disregard for
themselves.  In the book, The Courage
to Change, One Day at a Time,
one of the readings tells a story about a
woman who had recently become an Al-Anon member.  Every night when she went to bed, she found
her drunken husband fallen out of bed and lying on the floor.  She’d help him back in bed, cover him up and
then finally get to go to bed too.  After
her Al-Anon session, she decided she’d just step over him and go straight to
bed. When she shared her new approach at a meeting, they gently told her she
had gone to the other extreme. So, the next night she used a different
approach.  She gently placed a blanket on
him, stepped over him and went to bed. 
She managed to find a place where she could both be compassionate and
take care of herself.

My friend works
out with a trainer.  I knew this personal
trainer when he was having terrible back pain and when I saw him again I asked
him how his back was doing.  He said it was
fine.  Then he told me he was pleased
he’d had the bad back experience because it made him a better trainer.  It made him more compassionate.

I know many
people take tragic experiences and use them to better the lives of others.  There is story after story of people who
chose to use their tragedy as a stepping stone not only for their own recovery
but for anyone else who is looking for help with the same type of
situation.  I am sure it wouldn’t take
much for you to recall some of the more well known examples.  How about the Amber Alert program?  I regularly see the signs for missing
children on the freeways.

Twenty five years
ago Rachel and Saul Schanberg lost their young daughter Linda to cancer.  Before Linda died she asked her mom to make a
difference in the Duke Cancer Center.  She
asked her to help people feel cared for and not just cared about.  Rachel began the Duke Cancer Patient Support
Program with herself and four volunteers in an office the size of a
closet.  Today her efforts have created a
program world renown for their care of cancer patients and their loved
ones.  It’s all free.  Most hospitals wouldn’t consider supporting a
program that doesn’t bring in any revenue but because of Rachel’s passion and
compassion, we have over 300 volunteers and the most amazing services you can
imagine.  The impact the program has made
on the new Duke Cancer Center can be seen in the center’s warm, inviting
atmosphere.

Our challenging
life experiences offer us two choices. 
We can become more caring, gentle and compassionate or we can become
bitter, hard and reclusive.  My intention
to be a more compassionate person, to be more Yolanda like, is a quality I
always want to be developing.  Recently,
I read a book to help me better understand and care for an aging parent.  The main lesson in the book encourages the
reader, the caretaker, to try to see life as their parent may see it.  When they rephrased some of the concerns of
the parent using language based on the author’s years of experienced, it
brought me a greater understanding of that which my parent is concerned.  And, with understanding I felt a deeper sense
of compassion. 

I am an ardent
believer in the power of prayer.  I don’t
know how it works but I believe it does. 
I keep a list in the front of my journal of all the people for whom I am
currently praying.  I always add “And,
especially for those who most need Your mercy.” 
Since practicing compassion requires one to “do” something along with
experiencing feelings of empathy, I can pray. 
If there is no other way for me to bring help and solace to those I am
concerned about, it gives me great comfort to know I can offer them up in
prayer and to believe that God is blessing them in ways beyond my
comprehension.  Truly, that’s how I want
to see myself; that’s the person I want to be. 
If when I die my obituary refers to me as compassionate, I will rest
with the satisfaction of a life well lived.