It is easy to be loving when we are wooing and being wooed, when we are sheltered and fed and appreciated. But what about times the car won’t start, and the baby’s thrown up in the backseat, and the dog’s running loose, and our mate wants to love and live with someone else?
How We Know Our True Character
My mother used to say that we reveal our true character by how we behave when we are ill. I would add to that: how we treat someone when we are busy, or feel disappointed or betrayed or threatened or angry or insecure.
All too often, we act warmly to our sweetheart and coldly to a waitress taking our order. We treat acquaintances well, but not our own family. We are affectionate with our own animal companions but ignore others’ animal companions we do not know, or regard as not worthy of our attention.
Maybe we act agreeably to all, but only when someone is watching. Or, we act agreeably to no one.
What If? What If?
Few of us dwell on what life would be like if we, like those we care for, were unable to walk or wash ourselves — if we suffered chronic pain but could not make ourselves understood or were forced to survive, isolated from loving people.
These thoughts are hardly comforting. Already, perhaps, we have begun to feel the loss of the self we had counted on to carry us through.
We are brave when we can whet our deepest compassion on our own fear of helplessness. ~ msd
Oh, The Life Changes
These days, caring for each other even dutifully feels monumental. Caring for each other in loving ways, and for the long run, seems no less than miraculous.
Think of an airplane braking when it lands — the sound it makes, the feeling in the belly that comes from the body opposing great speed.
How similar to our loving someone deeply for years and picturing no limits to this loving, then finding ourselves braking — suddenly relating with this person differently — due to the impact of injury or illness.
One moment we are friend (child or partner or parent) to a vigorous person. The next moment we are responsible for that person, completely.
Now instead of wondering whether to move to a different state, or to change careers, we concentrate on the least hurtful way to turn our loved one in bed or we search for all that will soothe and nourish him or her.
We, Too, Could Use A Tender Word.
Some of us shine all the way through our serving. Others of us cannot do that, or don’t think we can. It is easy to honor someone literally upstanding. Honoring the flat-in-bed ill, or dying, demands more from us.
We see days and weeks stretch out like miles. Maybe we say, “Well, I’ll do this, but I won’t do that,” rather than being open to whatever needs to be done.
Even if we’re glad to serve, our willingness may be met with our loved one’s resistance. Feeling at risk, and raw, people we’re caring for might spray orders at us, like bullets.
We feel particularly tried when those we’re looking after are cheerful to everyone else but grumble to us when we’re alone with them — so. many times we, too, could use a tender word.
Pain and worry aside, one reason why even the kindest people confined to bed might act uncharitably towards us is that they envy us (though they may be unaware they feel this way).
We are, after all, more vital than they are, more capable of taking time to replenish ourselves, in ordinary ways — a walk, a warm bath, a favorite meal. Even if we are old and not so well ourselves, we most likely enjoy this advantage.
Few can muster the courage to say “I’m lonely. I’m afraid. Please don’t go.” Instead the longing for company sometimes comes back at us as “You never come to see me,” or “You never this or you never that.”
In a person raging in front of us, there is good, just as good still lives in us when we are raging. Our judgment of ourselves often torpedoes our understanding of someone else.
Only by reaching for the “beyond-the-beyond” of people — behind their eyes, back of their pain, beneath their blame and irritation and fussing — do we begin to make a path to the best in them.
Treating someone with compassion who does not treat us well in return might be our fullest offering of love, as well as our own greatest relief during daily rounds of vigilance and giving. ~ msd
A man dying in a center for the terminally ill was grumpy and mean spirited for weeks after his arrival there. He was irked, particularly, by the singing of an old woman whose room was next to his.
This man received abundant attention from caregivers. In time, he melted into his own manner of gentleness and concern for others, though no one had expected or required he make this turnaround.
The woman next-door increasingly became the object of his goodwill. For her birthday he bought her not one — but two — birthday cakes. When she became too ill to sing, he said he missed hearing the sound of her voice.
Passion For Life
A man with Lou Gehrig’s disease (the fatal condition whereby one gradually loses muscle functioning) could move only his eyeballs. This man, when interviewed on television, “talked “ electronically about how attitude is everything — about how he had made a choice to live, calling what would be happening to him his “greatest adventure. “
Another man seriously afflicted with Lou Gehrig’s disease said that he never for one moment wanted to be a person who was healthier. This man was sure his passion for life is what carried him far beyond the timeline others established for his death.
I sense that both men made their decision to live as vividly in their minds as many who hold thoughts of ordinary ends they wish to bring about.
Few trials of our own could compare with the trials of these two men. Yet to the extent we, too, feel spirited and we can manage to see our experience with a person in our care as being “our greatest adventure,” this experience holds the promise of a holy time.~ msd
One Of Many
Some people suffer deeply, yet we feel blessed being in their company — despite their physical needs, or disfigurement — despite the pain we likely feel uncomfortable witnessing, despite exhaustion we might experience due to the rigor of caring for them.
It takes no forced effort to be gentle and giving to these people (though this might be difficult to understand if one has not had the honor of serving such courageous human beings).
Though they anguish — and may speak of their anguish — these individuals manage not to drain us or exclude us.
They are not furious at God or at the world. They do not expect a life free from upset. Rather they understand they are one of many who suffer.
With such people I am the caregiver but, in a sense, so are they. Their spirit and dignity shine forth, wrapped like a cloak around both of us. There is room to understand what to do on their behalf.
From them, I feel neither a door slammed shut nor a grasping. These sufferers broadcast love no matter what pain they are enduring. No matter what pain they are enduring, they are able to take love in.
This post was inspired by a section from my book, Caring In Remembered Ways: The Fruit of Seeing Deeply.
Both Caring In Remembered Ways and my website celebrate compassion as a way of life.
Thank you so much for clapping/sharing when you’re moved to.