Tuesday, August 20, 2013
The Limits of Compassion
In my Jewish meditation group this morning, in preparation for the High Holidays, I tried to focus on forgiveness. The best I could do was to summon a bit of compassion. For two years, as I watched my son struggle with depression and anxiety, I prayed that he be blessed with rachaman compassion for himself—along with shalom peace, simcha joy, chesed loving kindness, and shlemut healing or wholeness. Now that he is gone, I pray for all those things for myself, my family, and N’s friends. Compassion feels like an accessible door to the much more complicated place of forgiveness.
I feel compassion for N’s terrible suffering. But today, exactly 5 months since his death, my compassion is qualified, more in the head than the heart. I know he suffered and was too overwhelmed by pain to see another way out; I know I shouldn’t blame him for this. But I am still too conflicted, too hurt and angry. To fully experience compassion, I need to open myself up to the extremity of his pain—and except for a few moments this spring, I have held back from that. It’s still too scary a place to visit.
In Jewish tradition, we pray every Shabbat, “God, the soul you have given me is pure.” I used to love to chant that line with a sense of hopefulness. Now I feel tainted, bursting with the impurities of bitterness, self-pity, remorse. I cannot yet find a pure, open-hearted compassion for my own poor child, maybe because I cannot find it for myself.
In yoga meditation the other day, I briefly saw a light behind my eyes in the shape of hands cupping a human heart. I thought of N and how, at 21, he didn’t yet know how to cherish or protect his tender soul. Was the image a gift from him, handing over that soul to me, reminding me of our connection and how I loved and tried to nurture that part of him? Reminding me of the need to gently hold my own vulnerability and imperfections in the light as I grieve?