Have you ever had something horrible happen to you only to have a friend try to tell you why it might be a good thing?
Even if it might be true, it’s never what we want to hear. At all. We don’t want the lesson. I don’t want the lesson, even though you guys know I love me a good analogy.
Sometimes we don’t need the lesson – at least at first. What we need is to know that we are not alone. That other people care about what we are going through.
Last month I went through one of my worst nightmares and I learned a few lessons about grief and compassion.
I was walking my dog, Odin (that’s him, up there.) in our neighborhood on a crisp Wednesday morning. It was 8:30am and I was feeling good about being up and out the door before Aaron left for work.
We turned the corner a few blocks from our house and in a split second of terror I realize the Great Dane had gotten out of the gate and in an instant she had my little dog by the neck. She was going to kill him. I just remember the sick feeling in my stomach and screaming hysterically, frantically kicking out at the dog but only swiping at the air as she spun around and this time locked her jaws on his side. It was the worst thing I have ever experienced. That helpless terror. It was incomprehensible.
Thankfully, the owner had just been about to go outside and she heard the commotion and came out and we were able to separate them. I crouched over Odin and fumbled for my phone. Aaron didn’t answer. I couldn’t bear to look at where all the blood was coming from. The owner wanted to take us to the vet, and I remember thinking, I just have to get away from this. We can walk… and I felt so dizzy and Odin trembled at my side as we feebly got into her car as she drove us a few blocks home.
As I came inside I saw Aaron and I barely got the words out… Odin was hurt…and I just collapsed on our kitchen floor, sobbing. We drove Odin to our vet immediately and they took him in for surgery for the lacerations. I was just a mess.
At the doctor later that day (I had to get a tetanus shot because Odin had bit me accidentally when we pulled them apart) – the nurse who administered my shot tried to make small talk “Oh, your dog was attacked? Good thing he’s gonna be okay…” and it took all my strength not to burst into tears straight away. All I felt was that they just didn’t understand, how terrifying it had been, how scared I was now that Odin wouldn’t make it or that there would be complications with his surgery or recovery… I felt very alone. Even Aaron couldn’t fully understand, as he hadn’t been there. I knew how much he wished he had been as he tried to talk me through that day and the ones that followed.
Looking back, you might say that I was just worried for nothing. Odin is recovered fully at this point. His stitches are out, the spot they shaved on his side is growing back… he is snuggling as much as ever.
What remains, is for me to sort out the things I experienced and learned from this trauma.
What was most difficult was the feeling that most people didn’t understand. They didn’t understand how violent the attack had been. They didn’t understand how much I loved my dog. They didn’t understand what this meant to me. Of course, in reality, I was surrounded by support and messages of love.
But grief is an irrational beast, and it does not count all the supportive texts and facebook messages, it just knows that right now, in this moment, you are alone at home and your dog is still unconscious at the hospital and its all your fault and no one has an arm around you.
I learned that all the things that people do to make you feel better, only make you feel worse. People who try making light of things and looking on the bright side just make you feel like your pain is irrational.
I learned that people who experience these things, who actually lose loved ones, must feel so alone.
There is a story in the Bible that Jesus tells to a man who asks him what he must do to be righteous. He tells the story of a man who fell into the hands of robbers. Bloody and beaten, he lies unconscious in the road. A priest is passing by, and seeing him, crosses by on the other side of the road. If he touches this man he will be ceremoniously unclean, he won’t be able to do his job, so he clearly can’t stop. Another religious person passes by, and also crosses on the other side of the road. Then another man happens upon him. This time, the one in need and the one who sees him happen to be national enemies. Their two groups hate each other. And yet, the man sees the broken body and has compassion on him. He puts him in his car. He takes him to a hotel. He gets him medical attention. Then he gives the hotel enough money for him to stay two months, he tells the hotel manager, look after him, and whatever he needs, I will pay for. I will be back to check on him later. So who is the righteous one in this story? The one who professes to believe something or the one that stops and acts on it no matter what it costs him. And it will cost dearly.
The worst part of that story is that I can easily see how I am the priest. The religious person. I have my priorities on my own needs. I can easily justify a way out of the hassle of helping someone else.
The truth is that compassion for other people takes practice. It’s difficult to take my eyes of myself and train them on another, and look, and really see, what does this person need? What can I do to help them realize they aren’t alone? Where are they hurting? What do I have to give?
These are a lot of words, probably too many, but they are from my heart. Part of me just wanted to post Odin’s cute holiday picture today and be done with it. Easy. Make people smile. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But I don’t want to always put on a happy face just in case someone out there needed to hear that it’s okay to have a day where you just need compassion.
And I felt challenged that in this time where it’s so easy to put on a joyful face and post a happy status, there are others in our midst that need you to see them with eyes of compassion today.
I want to look at others and really see them for all that they are, and let them know that they are enough, and that they are not alone.
You are not alone. Your hands have the power to heal. You are meant to be loved.