the mercer weave

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Compassion is Hard

This past weekend in a small town southeast of Seattle, Josh Powell killed himself and his two young sons. The news crawled along the bottom of the television screen during the pre-Super bowl coverage on a dark red banner. This story has monopolized the news in the Pacific Northwest off and on since Powell’s wife disappeared in Utah in 2009. Being a cop, I don’t tend to react as strongly as many people do to this kind of news because it’s so much a part of the culture of policing. We constantly encounter people at the worst moment of their life and there is often pressure to maintain a certain stoicism in the face of abject tragedy.

It is often a challenge to maintain one’s humanity while investigating horrible things, while looking at death, grief and violence perpetuated by the people who are supposed to love you unconditionally. Many of us create a coat of armor, a rigid exterior that we hope is un-penetrable but we suspect is deeply flawed.  We have that suspicion because even as hard as we try to not let it affect us, we can’t control that subconscious troll that creeps into our dreams in the darkest moments of night. It is impossible to see these kinds of things without being profoundly changed.

As I sat in the comfort of my home on Sunday, I thought of the first responders arriving at the Powell house fully engulfed after a violent explosion. And I couldn’t help but think of the day they thought they had ahead of them – football at the fire station, answering a few aid calls, making dinner for the crew. And I thought about the neighbors and the families and of course, about the two children killed and how life can change in a flash of fiery rage when one man’s delusion consumed something so innocent and loved so no one else could have it.

And I tried to have compassion for that man because that’s what I’m striving for with my practice. And although I didn’t quite make it there because I think this would qualify as advanced compassion, in my humble opinion, I have committed myself to try.

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3 thoughts on “Compassion is Hard

  1. Maiaoming on said:

    Thank you so much for your honesty. I feel lucky, because my partner is a social worker – which means I hear stories, not just about kids getting hurt, but about how the parents doing the hurting were themselves victims. When we consider that pain comes from pain – that a rageful, violent person is acting out what was done to them – then the ability to feel compassion – for that person, for the person that hurt that person, for all of us, who hurt other people in small and big ways often without meaning to, or because we are simply ourselves wounded and hurting – well, it becomes accessible for me.

    I guess, too, that I’ve experienced the feeling that violence and rage are along a continuum. I’ve yelled at my kids. I didn’t hit them. I didn’t kill them. But I acted with anger. I am not separate from this man. I’m not on one side of a fence, and he’s on the other.

    If I can’t have compassion for him – how can I have compassion for myself? Compassion doesn’t mean you’re okay with the person’s actions. It means you understand that all of us do the best we can. And those of us who do the worst don’t have any better options…

    Ok, not trying to lecture – just really inspired by your post.It’s something I’ve struggled with quite a bit.

    • Amy,

      Thank you for your insightful comment. You’re spot on with the idea that it is harder to have compassion for others if we can’t have it for ourselves. That is probably one of my biggest challenges.

  2. Glad you commented on the Powell tragedy. I did pray for the kids and the father, but have had
    several rounds of judgement in my mind about the father, and his actions.
    This was so awful, when I find myself dwelling on the incident, I try to catch myself and change the channel in my mind to some other topic, and turn it over to Divine Consciousness. Moving to
    compassion is a tough one here. I’ll keep trying.

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