Holding Compassion

Blog manager’s note: Carol sent me these thoughts on compassion a little while back, in the height of “shelter-in-place.” I find it speaks to me now, as we all wonder and work toward whatever’s next in a world forever changed by the coronavirus.


Learning Compassion

One day recently, I was reminded of an exercise from one of the classes we took to prepare to become licensed as foster parents. The facilitator gave every participant five 3 x 5 cards. She asked us to label each with a person, place, or thing that was important to us. Then, she walked around the circle and randomly took away cards.

“This is what happens,” she said, “when children are removed from their homes. All they have known, all that has been important to them, is suddenly rearranged. Sometimes gone altogether.”

It was almost 15 years ago, but I still remember the fluttering heaviness I felt at my core – incomprehension struggling toward compassion.

Visceral Awkwardness

I felt a similar sort of visceral awkwardness when my 20-year-old daughter came home after her college had suspended face-to-face learning. Deeply involved in campus life, it was understandable that she would feel disappointed, frustrated, anxious, angry, even cheated. But as we spent time together, I sensed a different kind of distress. It was something I couldn’t place. She seemed edgy and tense, uneasy in a way that made it feel like she wanted to jump out of her skin.

Now that we found ourselves co-adulting, the two of us had made plans for how to manage the inevitable stresses that will come up in the uncertain weeks ahead. Our commitment to open communication gave me permission to wonder aloud what was going on for her. Her response was clear.

“I didn’t choose to come home. I was forced.”

Memory of a Distant Past

Her words recalled the memory of a distant past, reconstructed in her body-mind, and brought forward to today. Unmistakably present. The voice came from a little girl standing in the shape of a beautiful, bright, insightful, open-hearted young woman. It was the sound of the 6-year-old whose presence still inhabits a tender space within us both. I watched her in my mind as she walked timidly, bravely, all around our house on that first night, taking in the landscape of her new “forever home.” Such an absurd concept for a child who had already been separated from so many forevers.

The memory touched me in a way the experience couldn’t have in real time. We’ve grown up, the 6-year-old girl and I. As we’ve healed, we’ve come to appreciate that old wounds never completely go away. They come back to let us know where we’ve been. They remind us to be soft, especially when times feel harsh.

For many of us, the forced displacement of social distancing has felt harsh. So do the unknowns of “reopening.” We find the familiar suddenly rearranged. The experience stirs something different in each of us. May it remind us to act and speak gently, to treat ourselves with care. Let us hold compassion for where we have been, and openness to where we are going as we walk timidly, bravely, through the new.

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