The Pain of Others

As soon as I heard the words, “I’m Jackie’s son” I knew something was wrong. Steven called to tell me his mother, my friend of over 30 years, had died. I knew she had a bad heart. A couple of years ago the doctor had told her she’d have two to five more years. Still I didn’t expect it, and since I so loved and respected my friend Jackie, as Steven spoke, I cried. I wish I could have stopped the tears but I couldn’t. I wish I could have said the right words to comfort Steven, but I was too busy dealing with my grief.
A little while later I called my old and very dear friend Susan to get news of her husband’s back surgery. The spine had been nicked, she said, and they were waiting to see whether the oozing spinal fluid would seal itself or require additional surgery. The news took me aback. It was to have been a simple enough procedure. I ought to have comforted her, I should have known the words, but my own pain was too much in the foreground.
Feeling pain for the difficulties of others is supposed to make us compassionate. And usually it does, but there are times when our own pain puts the focus on us, not them. Then we are whether we want to call it that or not, at least a bit selfish. Had I not been so preoccupied with my own feelings, had they not acted as a barrier between me and true compassion, finding the right words, comforting Steven and Susan would have readily come to mind.
I know better and more often than not practice it. While I can find excuses for myself, even reasons, this time I didn’t. For now, the regret of indulging my personal feelings over those who were in pain remains. Hopefully it will guide me to better recognize the signs so that next time I can put such feelings aside and focus on whoever needs my compassion.