On Sunday, as I was going through security at DIA, I saw a TSA agent help an elderly man who was struggling with his backpack. It was a busy morning and people were rushing to empty their bins and put their shoes back on, and the man was trying to quickly exit the security area but his backpack strap was tangled and he couldn’t get his arm through. The TSA agent reached over and lifted up the pack so that there was more room to maneuver and the man was able to put his pack on. Tears stung my eyes at this simple act of kindness between strangers.
Last week I sat vigil with a man who was dying. I do this as often as I can, but what was different about this time was that he was conscious. Not just awake but aware. This was a first for me. It’s one thing to walk in as a complete stranger and sit with a person who is dying when they’re unconscious, but to walk in to somebody’s room when they’re alive and present seems presumptious at best and intrusive at worst. In that moment I had to push ego aside (“Will I be good enough?”, “What do I have to offer?”, “Who am I to be here?”) and say a prayer to be of service. To say he was gracious would be an understatment. Welcoming me into his journey, his transition, with a smile and a whispered “hello”, it was his kindness that allowed me to access my highest self and connect on a soul level for a brief period. We prayed together, I stroked his magnificent head and laid my hand on his heart. To love freely, without any thought of past or future, is to truly be present and timeless. The gift was all mine.
I looked up the definition of compassion and learned that it translates as “suffering together.” And it’s not just about suffering – when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people. Compassion generates more compassion. Beautiful.
Yesterday I shared a burden with a friend and she cried for me as I could not. I was numb and all cried out. Even though my heart was heavy, seeing the kindness, the compassion, in her eyes, gave me a sense of peace and I felt lighter, less alone.
“Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion. ”