Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Compassion From Day to Day

I find that my days are simply filled with opportunities for feeling compassion for others. Consequently, it is those moments when I can connect with my compassion when I feel most connected, optimistic and part of something bigger than my little life.

As a nurse, one can often be consistently confronted with chances to be compassionate. In fact, nurses are often rated in surveys as some of the most trustworthy and compassionate people around, so I see my vocation as a professional doorway to practicing "compassion in action".

Working one-on-one with an elderly gentleman who lives with a variety of complaints and ailments, I use my compassion to see his suffering as no different than mine, and I strive to be free of judgment and frustration when he refuses to do what I think might be in his best interests. My frustration does bubble up from time to time, but I try to see the world through his blurry eyes, and I cultivate a gentle acceptance of his personal modus operandi.

In my other work, a woman with a history of a major stroke can say nothing more than "momma" over and over again, although we are aware that her mental and cognitive functions are fully intact. She frequently cries in frustration when she cannot make herself understood, and I do my best to look her deeply in the eyes and beam my love and admiration to her when we are face to face every other week when I come to see how things are going with the home health aides that I supervise. I think she and I have great love for one another, and although we cannot communicate conversationally like we might like to, we connect on a level that supersedes that of the spoken word.

Yet another client has a condition that puts her at great risk of repeat heart attacks or strokes, and she lives each day as if it might be her last. Her condition is uncorrectable, and although medications keep her alive, she walks a precipitously tenuous line with life on one side and death on the other. We talk deeply about her life, her past, and her fears for the future, and I listen to her with an open heart and a well of compassion for her suffering.

Aside from nursing, opportunities for compassion are everywhere: the homeless veteran begging for money on the street corner; the elderly widower making his lonely way through his latter years; the child home from school with the flu; a friend who loses a parent.

The human condition is almost synonymous with suffering, yet that suffering can be assuaged on many levels by the active practice of compassion for others, and the ability to see the suffering of another person as no different than one's own. "There but for the grace of God go I" is a crucial tenet to remember at time when one feels judgmental or impatient with the plight of other people, and it is in cultivating such an outlook that we truly embody our humanity.
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