It has been a few weeks of intense pain – pain coming from watching my cousin hold on to life dearly as he battles both COVID and cancer and will likely be leaving behind a 4-month-old, pain from being thousands of miles away as I saw everyone in my sister in laws family get the virus and hoping every morning that they recover, pain from watching family members get on oxygen cylinders, pain from checking my phone to find out another friend lose a sibling to the virus, pain from reading stories of the intense inequality in my home country, pain from knowing that so many children have lost not just one but both their parents in this pandemic, pain from reading stories of how young girls are having to work as sex workers to simply feed themselves a meal after 3 days…

This is the current state of COVID in India and it is deeply painful. 

And there is the dichotomy of the privilege of simply being in the US at this time and having had both the shots in the easiest way possible. The dichotomy of being able to plan a vacation in a couple of weeks while people die by the minute in my home country. 

I have gone through a plethora of emotions in the last few weeks that have included guilt, sadness, overwhelm, exhaustion, helplessness, and more. I often find insights and wisdom in a lot of my difficult feelings and I couldn’t make sense of the world and felt so lost. The hardest one was compassion collapse where even a simple request to help someone looking for a job made me feel completely depleted. And yet, a part of me wanted to be of service in the now and I didn’t have the emotional capacity. Yet, another dichotomy. 

That was a turning point on this pain and grief journey. I was so depleted that I didn’t have the capacity to honor one of my most important values, compassion, and service when it was most needed in the world. 

And day by day I am trying to find my ground, find answers, access my own compassion and as I have learned from David Kessler, in some ways find meaning through this grief and suffering in the world. 

One of the most effective tools to honor my values has been to seek support in small and big ways so I can access my own compassion. This past week, I let most people I work with how heartbroken I was feeling especially after hearing the news of my cousin and it was healing to know I wasn’t alone and I could invite a few others around me to carry this pain with me. It felt important to acknowledge my pain so I could be in solidarity with all those who were suffering instead of going about my day as usual. 

I am also learning that compassion in many of these moments isn’t about (always) fixing human suffering or solving a problem. But, sometimes I could be a witness and listen and hold space for my aunt and many others who needed to grieve. Compassion doesn’t require everything to be big and grand all the time and I am learning to see that every act of kindness has a ripple that we may not always be able to see clearly. 

I am learning that kindness isn’t linear. I know my life has been impacted by so many small (and big) acts of kindness and have shaped so much of who I am. I may not always be able to pay it back but I know I can always pay it forward and perhaps such is how the goodness in humanity continues. 

And finally, I am learning that I can give myself permission to savor the joys in my own life and in the world while also holding space for the pain and suffering in the world. Yes, I can have a meal with a friend, cry with her, seek love and celebrate our friendship and hopefully bring some more love to another human’s world. I am also learning to give myself permission to pause connecting with the suffering in the world for a few minutes or a few hours and continue to re-engage in ways that can be meaningful.

Most importantly, I am learning to practice gratitude and recognize that even though I am incredibly tired in this season of life and there are moments when the kids arguing and fighting in the background can feel like a nightmare, it is these moments that make life meaningful. It is having humans to snuggle up with at bedtime that is some of life’s greatest gifts…

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