Tragic events can move us to compassion, and can turn our suffering into our bread or freeze us in our own pain. At our family reunion this summer, we picked out a word and tried to define and illustrate it. One of the words presented was “compassion.” Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. One of the meanings that stood out for me was the definition from Latin. The etymology of “compassion” is Latin, meaning “co-suffering.” Compassion involves “feeling for another” and moves us to help others with their suffering or loss.
The etymology of “compassion” is Latin,
Compassion involves “feeling for another”
and moves us to help others
with their suffering or loss.
When I try to illustrate compassion, my wife Karen’s grandmother comes to mind. I will never forget her funeral. People from all walks of life and ages came to her funeral. They all had a story of compassion in regards to Karen’s grandmother. The stories included how this grandmother took them in, stood up for them, courageously faced their abusers, and gave them a safe place to be. She was their safe place and had made a huge difference in their lives.
Grandmother’s story is one of being deeply wounded as a child. Her wounds did not turn her into a bitter person but gave her eyes to see the wounds in others and to reach out to them with compassion. Her wounds became her bread.
Compassion is using our pain to help others. We cannot take away the pain from others, but we can share what has helped us work through our own pain. In truth, it is the pain that molds us, shapes us, refines us and becomes a tool for growing and helping others. In our grief group, we do not take away the pain of others, but use what pain has taught us to help others work through their grief.