tears and the compassion of suffering-with
Long ago I learned to hold back my tears because of someone’s belief that to cry for myself was self-indulgent, not to mention red-eyed and -nosed unattractive. It meant that I was making too much of things, being too sensitive. I’ve unlearned those teachings enough that tears come easier now, especially in private.
But public tears for someone else were still another matter.
A few months ago, another, relatively new friend teared up while telling me something that was going on in her life. Uncomfortable, I averted my eyes. I rationalized at the time that I was giving her privacy, but as soon as my eyes shifted, I felt the connection with her break a little, which is probably what I wanted. I was not giving her privacy, but taking it for myself, and afterward I regretted retreating from her pain. I felt stingy.
A few weeks ago, a domestic violence survivor told me her story, and she was dry-eyed, but I cried. The connection between us increased with my tears.
I got it. This was compassion, from the Latin “to suffer with.” Compassion given and received.
So yesterday when my friend told me about her ongoing struggle, I cried. I apologized, worried about upsetting her, being, heaven forbid, “emotional.”
She said that my tears were the best gift I could have given her.
This post is partly in response to the word “compassion” in Dian Reid’s Self-Evident Challenge.