Compassion During COVID-19

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the world has had its modus operandi turned upside down. In some parts of Ontario, grocery store shelves that once held abundant bread, milk and diapers have become scanty. Facing these shortages, someone on Facebook recently commented, “Are we living in war times?!” These and many others are the realities that Canadians across the country have had to face in recent weeks.
Stained glass

For ill or for nil, there have been many responses to this outbreak. Some people are worried or scattered. Some are willing to shrug it off as nothing to worry about. And there are others realizing the value of having more than 4 days of food on hand. Perhaps having a well-stocked pantry and deep freeze are things to consider, not out of fear, but simply for preparedness.

So, the questions remain…How do we respond in times when uncertainty and fear may grip the inmost chambers of the human heart? How do we respond to a great deal of emotional, psychological or spiritual suffering from others (or even personally) during times such as these?

Suffering with our Neighbour

Compassio (Latin for compassion), means “to suffer with.” In our modern English translation, compassion means “to have a deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it” (as a millennial, I’ll quote from Wiktionary rather than the Oxford English Dictionary…scandalous, I know…).

How do we respond to a great deal of emotional, psychological or spiritual suffering from others (or even personally) during times such as these?

Compassion could be the catalyst for curbing how COVID-19 affects our communities, our country, and the rest of our closely-connected global society. We need to recognize this opportunity to choose how we respond and its potential to reshape culture during times like this.

Scientific research also shows that compassion is just as good for us as it is for others. Compassionate thoughts and actions can strengthen our immune system, lower inflammation, shorten recovery time after illness, and act as a buffer for stress.

The Stained-Glass Windows of Our Perceptions

At first glance it may be easy to judge the “toilet paper hoarder” in the grocery store a few weeks ago. (Or maybe that was you!) She had 6 packs of 30-roll toilet paper in her cart all to herself. Our trains of thought may have breezed by ideas of anger, “That woman is so selfish,” or disbelief, wondering “What’s all the panic for?”

We see the world through our own stained-glass windows, but the challenge for us is to see this woman through the eyes of compassion, rather than criticism…

Is she a mother with multiple children that has a vulnerable job? Is she stocking up while she still has an income? Is she someone who’s simply woken up to the value of being prepared and has decided to change that?

Seeing Each Other Face-to-Face

It’s easy for all of us to criticize and critique each other’s behaviour from behind the comfort of our screens. But, would you have the courage to confront the toilet paper woman face-to-face? What would be her response? Would you hear a story you weren’t expecting? Would that move you to a place of compassion?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

The catalyst of courage and compassion during COVID-19 is to look at ourselves and this woman through a new lens. If you could see her as God sees her, what would you see? If you could gaze into the windows of her soul, what would you find? Fear? Self-blame? Worry? Selfishness? Sorrow? Determination?

Compassion and Vulnerability

The Carrying of the Cross was a time of great suffering and great human vulnerability for Our Blessed Lord. Just as Simon helped carry the cross of Christ, let’s challenge ourselves to help bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) so that others may find the “yoke sweet and the burden light” (Matthew 11:30).

During these difficult days:

  • Look through the window of compassion in responding to others. In suffering with your neighbour (which – hold up…hey – is everyone, by the way…those loved & those least liked), work on halting the judgement, and cultivate generosity of mind and spirit.
  • Adopt a compassionate lens when… your spouse might appear distant, perhaps they are worried about the economic well-being of your family. Or when your co-worker isn’t responsive to your request, perhaps they are anxious for the health of an elderly parent. There may be a bigger story going on than what you can see.
  • Let that compassion translate into accompaniment. We walk with each other (spouse, child, co-worker, friend, parent, priest) perhaps even digitally right now. Regardless of our ‘distancing measures’ we must maintain the awareness that everyone is trying to figure out a new normal.
  • Take the time to hold the hands of those that you can, and for those with whom you cannot, hold their hearts instead: call an old friend, family member, or an elderly person in your parish, give a kind word to someone in the grocery store, or look into the eyes of a child who looks forlorn, and smile…even when they don’t smile back.
  • Follow Christ’s example in allowing others to extend compassion to you when your own vulnerabilities are too much to bear. We all like to ride tall on our white horses, but the courageous moment comes when we fall and we allow others to extend compassion towards us in our human frailty. After all, the loneliness of someone else could be relieved knowing they’ve been able to help us in our time of need.

As our readings for the 4th Sunday in Lent of this year remind us, we see what appears to be, but God sees the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

We all see the world through our own stained-glass windows.

So let’s ask Our Lord for His grace to shine through our windows and understanding during this current time of trial. Let’s allow His light to transform the rays of our perceptions into ones of truth and compassio for others as well as for ourselves, cultivating not fear but rather forgiveness and fortitude.