I think I’ve probably written this here before, but I’ll say it again: I don’t like to talk about my being sick. It feels like I’m making excuses or just complaining. I find myself extremely boring and self-conscious when I do. But it’s a fact of my life, so, in order to be authentic, sometimes, I just have to suck it up and do it.
This happened recently when I met up with a friend that I hadn’t seen in some 18 months. It was uncomfortable, but I decided to tell her a little about how hard the previous 6 months had been—that I’d been having trouble stringing together more than two okay days in a row. She paused, looked at me deeply and said with great sincerity, “Diana, that’s terrible.” I felt myself start to squirm in the face of this expression of true compassion. For that moment she had placed herself into the trenches with me, feeling the mud and the cold and all the nastiness. I was both awed and made uncomfortable by her reaction. I could feel my defenses starting to rise. Defense against compassion! I realized how ridiculous that was, so I deliberately attempted to relax into the feeling, dissolving the walls that thought they were keeping me safe, but were, instead, cutting me off from kindness. I tried to allow her compassion to wash over me, to touch the parts of me cowering in the hidden caves of my psyche.
A few days later, in conversation with a new acquaintance, the fact that I have health problems again came up in passing. With little information and without asking for more, the woman I was speaking to offered the same kind of compassion my friend had—open and encompassing. Again, I was awed, but this time, I didn’t try to brush it away. I just said, “Thank you.”
A week ago, I was able to “pay it forward”, so to speak, when the young woman who was dishing out the prepared salads at the deli told me she had been suffering from insomnia. When I expressed concern, she replied, “It’s okay. I’m young.” “No,” I countered, “it’s not okay. It’s lousy!” I don’t know if it made her feel cared about or, in any way, better, but we shared a smile that felt genuine and heartening.
These experiences taught me two things: 1) Expressions of compassion do not have to be longwinded or elaborate. They just need to be made with earnestness and presence. And 2) All the compassion in the world won’t do you any good, if you’re not willing to receive it.
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