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Thoughts on Compassion and Love

April 14, 2013

I work for a large corporation and we experienced a terrible tragedy several weeks ago. There was an occupational injury that resulted in an untimely death; a healthy man in the springtime of his life left for work one day and never came home. The man who died was highly regarded as an upbeat, positive and caring person with everything in his favor and a bright future ahead. He was a husband and father of two young children; a hard working man with so much to live for. Events like this call to mind memories of 9/11, the Sandy Hook shooting and similar tragedies that remind us to stop and give thanks for the people we love. With the blink of an eye and for no good reason, life as we know it can irrevocably change.
I was called to the scene as the onsite psychologist . My role was to provide crisis intervention services to the employees and managers who were impacted by this tragic event and organize a team of mental health care providers. There were hundreds of people involved who were grieving the loss, and it was our responsibility as the crisis care team to support and reassure them through this terrible ordeal. In the midst of grief and loss people’s reactions can vary quite significantly. While some are angry or enraged by injustice, others grow sad and tearful or quiet and stoic. There is no particular reaction that is right or wrong; in times of extreme grief we are all the same. Human and flawed. Frightened and vulnerable. Suddenly and keenly aware that our time here is limited.
At the beginning of the day when the sad news was first delivered, I was invited to introduce myself at an emergency meeting of senior executives. They needed to hear about details and logistics; an action plan for how people would be cared for and supported that day. As I rose to address the crowded room, my mouth went dry and my palms started to sweat. I was beyond terrified. My internal voice of self doubt and fear was chattering away at record speed; informing me that I was ill equipped and way out of my league. “I am just a private practice psychologist. These are high level corporate executives. What if they think I seem nervous or stupid? What if they don’t like me or ask me to leave?” My eyes wandered towards a middle aged man seated at the head of the table. A senior executive. A man of power and self confidence and years of success. I scanned his face, the lines around his mouth and the look of deep pain and sadness in his tired eyes. He looked lost and forlorn and my heart ached for him. As my fear faded into an ascending light of love and compassion, I was transformed. In that moment I experienced an emotional and spiritual shift. A shift I believe has changed me forever.
I abandoned my agenda of formal professionalism and instead I found an inner light of love and compassion. I was just me; human and flawed and ready to help. Instead of concerning myself with outer appearances and superficial acceptance, I rolled up my sleeves and prepared to connect. I reached out to embrace people and hold their hands. I looked into their eyes and tried to know them; everyone from the entry level worker to the highest paid executive. And I noticed a striking difference. My fear and self consciousness and internal doubt were gone. I was focused more on them than I was on myself. I felt like maybe I wasn’t doing enough, and I plotted and schemed for a way to do more.
I must have clocked 10 straight hours that day without a break but despite the promise of a healthy paycheck, I would have done it all for free. When I collapsed on my living room floor much later that evening, I could not shake the image of the senior executive with the grief in his eyes and the workers who lost a friend. And I knew I was a better person for having been there. By pushing against my outer limits and facing my fear, I found my authentic self and my spiritual home.
These days, anytime I face a challenge or hurdle I remember the lives that were taken from us way too soon. When I crossed the finish line after the Cooper River Bridge Run last weekend, I remembered them. When I returned to my yoga mat and resumed my familiar poses, I remembered them. And each and every time I press against my outermost limits physically, mentally or emotionally, I remember them. I remember the senior executive with the grief in his eyes, the children who perished in Sandy Hook and the victims of 9/11. When I start to doubt myself and my worthiness and the old voices of fear and self doubt kick in, I remember so many innocent souls who left this world with the all of their music still inside of them. I remember them because they did not have the chance to complete their journey. I remember them because they remind me that time is fleeting and every moment counts. I remember them because I want to be a better person. A person they would have been proud to know. A trusted friend and a devoted companion. A person who sees the good in others. And if I am lucky, I just might make a tiny difference and better this world with compassion and love.

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