One of the blessings of being sick is the renewal of my empathy for others who struggle with their health.
I think of the persistence and courage of those who have a chronic illness. Day in and day out, they deal with pain and difficulty, often with no hope of improvement. They do what needs to be done just to maintain whatever level of wellness they can attain. And mostly they do this with little complaint, so we don’t even notice their struggle.
I think of people who are facing a life-threatening illness. With no certainty of success, they undergo painful, costly treatments, embroiled in the medical system. And yet they put one foot in front of the other and go through the process, choosing life, finding moments of joy in a dark landscape.
I think of what it would be like to be sick while being homeless. I am blessed with a warm house, a comfortable bed, a convenient private bathroom, a pantry full of food, and family and friends to look after me. Not everyone is nearly so fortunate. Can you even imagine having pneumonia while living in a cardboard box or staying at a shelter?
And what if you lived in a refugee camp? Or a village without access to clean water? If there were even a doctor to tell you to “drink lots of fluids,” could you walk a mile to get water?
Whether far away or just next door, all around us are people who are struggling with great difficulties. When I jump into judgments of others, I have forgotten to have empathy for their hidden challenges. How do I know what they have come through? How do I know what they are dealing with today? And yet, I so easily forget.
And so I bless my own struggles because they remind me of the struggles of others and they exercise my empathy muscles.
“One of the things about compassion is that the difficult things that happen in our own lives teach us the most about what other people go through. So I value all the really lousy times in my life. It has been the lowest times in my life that have helped me the most to understand other people.” -Pema Chodron