Saturday, March 3, 2012

learning to breathe

"Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate.
Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition
 to go with others to the place where they are weak,
vulnerable, lonely, and broken." - Henri Nouwen

there is a tibetian practice, called tonglen apparently. a way to face the suffering around you, the darkness in this world. it is simple - when you encounter the suffering of another, you take a deep breath: breathe in suffering, breathe out compassion.

mostly, i don't do this. instead i rush from room to room, prying into people's places of pain, poking the areas that hurt the most, then leaving them alone again. mostly, i'm simply trying to survive myself. i can't handle thinking that hard about the suffering of those around me. but sometimes, there are moments where i pause. where i breathe and offer grace.

sixteen, overdosed on her mom's pills. a mix of pain meds and tranquilizers, she slips in and out of consciousness. everytime we bring her back she wakes up screaming curses and begging for cigarettes. there is sadness, for the life she's given up on. i breathe in her sorrow, and it touches my sixteen year-old self that also ached to find reasons for hope. i breathe out compassion: may she find a reason to live.

five months pregnant, found unconscious. cocaine and methadone running through her blood. a tiny heart flickers on the ultrasound screen. deep breath in, a prayer exhaled out: may this baby be whole.

a birthday celebrated in the hospital, a strange milestone in her 250 day hospital stay. i leave a cupcake on her bedside table that i know she won't eat. i inhale the futility that hangs in her room, the futulity of the machines and medicines that sustain her but cannot offer healing. i breath out an aching cry: may her suffering end quickly, and may she have happiness until then.

back for the third time, now with a breathing tube in his throat. two months ago, his predicted mortality was 100%, yet he still fights. i talk with his wife in the waiting room, telling her if she didn't call when she did, he wouldn't have survived. she bursts into tears in my arms.i pull in air and her tears, and breathe out a prayer: may she not find herself a widow. may she continue to find strength.

and every day the stories keep coming, and i keep learning to breathe.

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