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Early Thoughts on Compassion

February 9, 2011

From Compassion, published at BIN, June 28, 2006.  This post has been edited from the original.

Sandi went home early today. Sandi is my new boss. I like her because she is nice to me and is teaching me how to do research. She just finished her PhD in Human Sciences. She has pictures of her daughter and two grandkids in her office where I work.

I knew she was having health problems, having many doctor visits and tests. They don’t know what it is. The nurse at her doctor’s office left a message on her cell phone that they found a spot on her lung. I don’t think Sandi appreciated her leaving something like that on a message. She left the office to call her doctor. She started crying when she got back. She dried her eyes and left for the day. She said she just wishes they could find out what it is so they could begin treating it. She is worried about her husband.

I feel awkward. I asked if she was okay to drive home. I thought about hugging her, but we don’t know each other well, and I’m in no place to offer false reassurances even if I might have them.

I don’t know exactly why I feel awkward. Some of it is because I have compassion. I want to help Sandi, to make her feel better, but I don’t know how. I don’t have the wisdom to go with my compassion.

But I fear some of the awkwardness comes from the fact that I don’t have enough compassion. I don’t share her pain and that bothers me. At least, I feel I don’t share her pain as fully as I should.

Does this stem from the fact that I have no similar experience? Or worse, is it simply that I don’t care? Is my compassion superficial? Something where I wish Sandi were happy only because it would make my life easier?

Is such introspection akin to selfishness?  Am I worrying about me or worrying about her?

I still don’t have an answer to those questions, not fully, though I have some better ideas.  But I do have much more compassion for that stumbling girl who was just beginning to learn, taking her first steps on a path without knowing where it would lead her.  Sandi was finally diagnosed and treated.  She is doing well last I heard, living with her husband where they can be close to their grandchildren.

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