Christina Ryan Claypool: Renewing compassion and connection
Over two decades ago, my elderly friend, Gladys, fell in her home. Tripping over her sleeping dog, she shattered her shoulder requiring major surgery. I went to visit Gladys at the nursing home where she was temporarily recovering, hoping to encourage her.
Lying in a hospital bed writhing in excruciating pain, Gladys could barely speak. Overwhelmed by my friend’s anguish, I burst into tears.
In response, this seventy-something, courageous lady locked her eyes with mine like a parent scolding a misbehaving child. Then as firmly as her weakened state would allow, she said, “I don’t need your sympathy; I need your compassion.”
Gladys had always been a motherly mentor, and even in her suffering she was teaching me. After all, sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. While empathy is a desire to identify with an individual’s plight. When we identify, we don’t just feel pity, instead we search for a way to reach deeply into another’s dire circumstances and do something to help. This process births compassion.
Like Gladys, everyone encounters hardship or heartbreak at different times and in different ways. For instance, long before the Covid-19 crisis, Facebook and other social media platforms were filled with daily requests from hurting people crying out for prayer for broken bodies and grieving hearts, help for financial hardships, or relief for a multitude of concerns. Frequently, folks facing adversity write a frantic post desperate for an answer to their dilemma.
Most social media friends probably do genuinely care in that instant. But how often do we follow up with a hot meal, send a card, or offer a shoulder to cry on when someone is going through a rough patch? Admittedly, the pandemic further prevented us from pursuing in-person connections. Although that’s what a true friend was before social media was invented and the dangerous virus broke out, an empathetic person willing to walk through a valley with someone in distress.
Compassion was a lot more than a quick-like, heart, or prayer emoji, too. It was showing tangible care, not merely scrolling on to read the next post. But online requests soliciting our emotional, financial, or spiritual support are now so commonplace, we can be unwillingly desensitized by the volume of earnest pleas. All this crying out can cause even the most caring human being to be overcome with compassion fatigue.
The truth is a lot of us are overwhelmed from the past year’s challenges of everything unprecedented. The once strongest of individuals is probably bone-tired from fighting hidden battles. If you’re like me, you feel really sorry for the challenges other folks are experiencing, but you’re weary as well.
Yet no one needs sympathy when they are hurting. They need compassion. Gladys left this important lesson with me, before going to her heavenly reward. It’s a lesson relevant now that pandemic restrictions are lifting, a Covid-19 vaccine is available, and people are spending more time together again.
After all, it has become easy to not connect. We’ve gotten out of the habit due to the virus that randomly killed countless people. My elderly dad was one of them. He died alone on a Covid unit last November without a loved one being permitted there to comfort him. My final moments with my father were through a video call. Admittedly, this experience changed me.
Still, I refuse to dwell on the aching cruelty of the event. I choose to be thankful for the compassion of an overworked nurse, who stopped her endless duties to use her personal cellphone to allow me one last precious Facetime to say good-bye.
Circumstances like this past year’s lack of touch, anonymous masks, fear, isolation, and individual loss, have changed us all, leaving us with a choice to make. Will we become bitter, or better?
Hopefully, we won’t take our upcoming renewed connectedness for granted. Instead let’s be grateful and compassionate as we assimilate back into society, understanding it might be a little socially awkward and stressful along the way.
Setting aside our differing beliefs, varied opinions, and unrealistic expectations, remembering our nation’s citizens have all valiantly journeyed through a daunting season. Although our scales might display a few more pounds and our faces a few more wrinkles, with renewed faith we can bravely embrace this new normal clinging to God’s promise to be with us in all our tomorrows.
Christina Ryan Claypool is a freelance journalist and inspirational speaker who lives in Troy, Ohio. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com