This I Believe

Stephen - Asheville, North Carolina
Entered on August 28, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65

Compassion Breeds Strength

In an instant, in the blink of an eye, in the shattering of a pane of glass, one’s life can change dramatically. We were asleep when the call from the Emergency Room doctor came. When we awoke our nightmare began. It seems that our son, a freshman at the University, was engaging in some innocent fun with friends in his dormitory hallway. Circumstances came together in an altogether unlucky way and suddenly my son and a friend were sent crashing through a third floor window and out into the dark February night. They fell to the brick pavement far below, sustaining terrible injuries. Other friends, horrified at what they had seen happen, made quick calls to emergency services, and because the University Hospital was only a few blocks away, help arrived promptly. The young men were taken to the Emergency Room and immediately efforts were made to assess the extent of their injuries and stabilize them. Sadly, one of the young men died there in the Emergency Room. Our son lived, but had sustained multiple injuries, the most serious and frightening of which was significant bleeding into the brain. Arrangements were made to admit him to the Neurosurgical Intensive Care Unit. It was at that point that we received the phone call.

Now, imagine yourself hurtling down the highway alone in your small car on a dark night wondering what has become of your son after falling 3 stories through the cold air to a brick walkway. Imagine now that your spouse is in the car with you. You feel a little better, right? Now imagine a waiting room in the hospital filled with people who are there at 4 in the morning. Some you know and some you don’t, but they are all there because they are concerned about your son and about you. Your gut is tied in a knot. You are apprehensive and fearful, but because you are not alone you feel something else, too. Something that must be hope, and something that will be the source of the strength you must have to face this crisis. You know that it comes, in no small part, merely from the presence of those people.

So I believe in the power of compassion and empathy. I have felt it firsthand. I have known it to be an energy passed on to me to sustain and embolden what inner strength I had to begin with.

After a week in the hospital, my son had recovered enough that we were allowed to take him home. For the first two weeks after our return, our friends, neighbors, and folks from our high school and soccer communities delivered us home cooked meals. This not only provided us with needed calories and relief from food shopping and cooking, but with each chicken dish, bowl of soup, pot of chili, and lamb chop we ate, we received a needed boost to our inner strength. This is not a boost that could have been found in a restaurant or take-out meal, or even a meal we prepared ourselves. It came directly from the energy that is created and passed from one person to another in an act of compassion and from a state of empathy. I am convinced that this energy was one source of healing from which our whole family benefited. My son used that, as well as good medical care and his own hard work and resolve, to make an excellent recovery. Now, after 6 months,

he has returned to the University to resume his studies.

Recently, a phone call again brought bad news. I learned that my sister-in-law has ovarian cancer. What to do? Well, I’m going to muster up every ounce of compassion and empathy I can and send them her way. I know from experience: it will help.