I am entering the holiday season with compassion fatigue this year. I am curiously disconnected from the annual push for over consumption, faux joy, and insincere wishes for Peace. I suspect my Bah Humbug is tempered by the proximity of loss and fear that literally shroud my skies on a daily basis since the town of Paradise was obliterated in the Camp fire.
The cataloging of devastation has taken on its own format. Television crews rush to the area and reporters wearing elegant outdoor gear speak to uniformed officials. The obligatory interview is done with someone who has lost everything. Mention is made of who is responsible. Heads are shaken. Hands are wrung. Next up, Sports!
Seeing these interviews over and over feels like I am being pummeled with pain. Since it is unceasing, I tend to shut down. This is not an uncommon reaction to overwhelm. There is an emotional numbness that is self protective and takes over when faced with overwhelm. The downside is that I become desensitized to suffering. This numbness dissolves when I get reconnected to others and something greater than myself. I find I am able to restore my sense of compassion and extend kindness. When I am tired, when I don’t eat healthy food, or feel I am without support, either through faith or friendship, then I become more vulnerable to the effects of this barrage of bad news.
What is so jarring this year is the juxtaposition of destruction with the holidays. The calendar drives the celebrations, but so many people have little to celebrate. The shock of the losses will extend through the holidays this year. For some who have lost everything, it may extend for years to come as the anniversary date rolls around. This has been true here where I live. It was just a year ago that we experienced such devastation from our Wine Country Fire.
I found an antidote to my negativity and compassion fatigue. A friend called and asked if I had some time to spare chopping vegetables. She is connected to a wonderful group of folks who are finding purpose and meaning in continuing to provide food to some 80 families still without a place to call home. Working together with others in pursuit of a common goal, we laughed, talked about life, and made food. I chopped lots and lots of tomatoes and a whole bunch of fennel. There was purpose in what we did, and a lightness in my heart because I felt as if I were able to make a difference in some small way. This is the light in the darkness that gives hope and keeps the embers of compassion alive in my heart.
The worst thing that can happen for any of us is to become disconnected. It is the most potent fear for many of my aging patients, who worry that they will be alone when they die or will be forgotten. Staying connected takes effort. Celebrations are one way that we can remain connected. It is not about the food or the presents, or the great deal you got on Black Friday. It is about the connection and renewal of our commitment to each other that happens this time of year. And those connections can happen in unexpected ways, both big and small.
I hope you will each find a way to connect this season. My wish is that the thanks you are giving is for friendship, love, and hope. My wish is that you will receive the same in abundance.