Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Interview with Compassion

By Pia Thompson

Pia: Today I’ve invited Compassion to my blog. Welcome.

Compassion: Thank you so much for inviting me. I appreciate the time you’re spending with me.

Pia: No problem. I just wanted to begin by talking about your name. Most people have a vague understanding about it. They think of mercy and acts of kindness, but they may not know that Compassion literally means “suffering together.”

Compassion: Yes, it does.

Pia: I think a person can feel sympathy for someone who is suffering, or even empathy, imagining themselves in the same situation. But to get to the point of compassion is the next step. It’s an action word. It’s the time you roll up your sleeves and get to work, or you reach out to help in a tangible way. It’s not just crying over a problem.

Compassion: That’s a good way to describe it.

Pia: I remember that in the early years of our marriage, we talked about supporting a child in a developing country. We felt sympathy. We had the desire to act. But for one reason or another, or one excuse or another, we didn’t do it for several years. Once our daughters were school age, we finally chose a girl in Haiti, and she was educated alongside our own.

Compassion: That’s just wonderful. Thank you for doing that.

Pia: I’m not saying it to boast, because it was no hardship for us, but rather I regret that it took so long. We saw a need, but didn’t act on it. All the sympathy in the world won’t feed and educate a child. It’s that leap over to compassion after we are stirred up about something, that makes a difference.

Compassion: I understand.

Pia: I think it’s easier to show surface compassion, if you know what I mean. Like my example, sending money every month was relatively painless. Yes, it made a difference in the life of a little girl, but it didn’t really cost me. I didn’t suffer together with her.

Compassion: It’s still an act of kindness, and it did require action.

Pia: Yes, perhaps it was more of a kindness. When I think of compassion, I think of being there with a person in their extremity, like working in a slum with street kids, feeling the fear of violence like they do.

Compassion: Do you not see yourself as a compassionate person? After all, you’re an Oncology Nurse. Nurses in general are considered to be compassionate individuals, and some would argue that Oncology Nurses are even more so. It can’t be an easy field in which to work. Surely the emotional investment you speak of is involved in your work?

Pia: Yes and no. I think there is a bigger emotional investment in my patients because they’re facing a life-threatening illness. I think most people, when they think of an Oncology unit, think it must be the saddest place. Usually when someone hears I’m an Oncology Nurse, the response is always the same. They tilt their head to the side and say, “Aww, that must be sad.” Really. Every. Time. That’s why it was refreshing to go to the Oncology Nursing Conference. There were 7,000 Oncology Nurses who all understood. They “got” me. And we all wanted to do this job, and if it’s not wrong to say this, we like our jobs. It’s good to be there for someone, teach them what to expect so they’re not so scared, listen to their “story”, and be there for them. There is conversation, humour and very rarely, tears. So yes, there is some compassion there. I think I felt more compassion after we dealt with it in our family. My husband’s cancer made me a better oncology nurse because I understood what the caregiver was going through and how cancer impacts the whole family and all areas of life. But before you start to think too highly of me, let me tell you that I do keep my emotional distance from patients. It would be too much for me if I didn’t. I leave my work at work. I don’t interact with patients outside of work in any way. I have never attended the funeral of a patient. I do this on purpose. Maybe I don’t even have the emotional strength to be truly compassionate. I wonder, sometimes.

Compassion: Now, I don’t believe that! Tell me about some other concerns close to your heart.

Pia: Well, I have my daughter, Leah to thank for making me aware of some of these things. Through her, I learned about the International Justice Mission, modern day slavery, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, child labour and fair trade products. Through Falling Whistles, I learned about child soldiers in the Congo. I also care about medical missions like Mercy Ships and Christian Blind Mission; general missions like Emmanuel International or To Every Tribe; or Bible missions like Wycliffe Bible Translators or The Bible League. But again, sending money or wearing a whistle around my neck doesn’t seem like much.

Compassion: Don’t underestimate the need for senders and supporters. Perhaps that’s your role at this stage in your life.

Pia: Maybe.
Compassion: Do you think you’d feel better if you physically went over there?
Pia: Perhaps a short-term missions project. It’s been on my mind for quite a few years now. But again, that leap from desire to action just hasn’t happened.

Compassion: Far be it from me to hold you back, but you also need to look to God for His timing, and then you’ll see all the pieces fall into place. When the time is right, you may go, but in the meantime, keep responding to those promptings to do what you can where you are. And also know that there are many ways to ‘suffer together’ with some here in your own country. Ask God to bring those situations into your life.

Pia: Thank you so much, Compassion. You always make me feel better. Sometimes I feel so useless as a Christian. I feel like the extent of my action is signing a cheque. I know I need to continue to be faithful in that, and ask God for new opportunities to serve. It’s a hurting world out there.

Compassion: It was a pleasure to be here. Let me give you a big, compassionate hug.

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