I remembered a conversation I had a few years ago with my friend Anna. She was working on a project that involved dealing with a lot of emotionally abused humans who probably would never be okay again. Day after day she absorbed their pain as she listened to the most horrible descriptions of what kind of savagery war inflicts on human beings. My involvement with them was not as intense as hers but after a few minutes of trying to transcribe what they were telling her, I couldn't see through my tears well enough to type anymore. But she kept going, letting me cry as she kept asking question after question. I managed to get their words down without having to see what I was typing.
Later as we drank a bottle of wine and then opened another one because we really needed to get drunk, I asked her how she could do what she did, day after day, without it all leaving permanent wounds. She told me she was paying off a karmic debt and that emotions were insignificant next to that. I wanted to know what she had done that was so horrible and she said "I survived where they did not."
Those words burned a permanent place in my tissue. The interesting thing to me after all this time has passed between the day I had that conversation with Anna and the long list of people who have died since, is they gave me a strength to help others in a way I never knew I was capable of doing. I've always been able to help people on an intellectual level. I've always been really good at finding resources for people who need them.
But I never felt adequate enough to do what Anna did. I never felt I was that strong. I'm also, as I choose to call it, willfully naive. If people choose to lie, to manipulate, to take advantage of my friendship, it's on them, not me. To be any less is to become them. I'm convinced that is how bad people are created. Those who are hurt, used, abused, manipulated, whatever you want to call it, become the person who did those things to them. I've always felt that was beneath me in dignity and it was up to them to come up to where I was and not allow myself to sink down to where they were.
It's led to some, shall we say, interesting dilemmas in my life. Some perceived my reactions or lack of them as indifference, guilt, judgement, all the things that were in their own heads. It was never about me as those things never are about anyone but the person doing them. So why let them turn you into them? Anna would like that reasoning very much. It was her.
I've found that what works for me, what allows me to be emotionally available for someone like Lydia day after day as she progressed through her dying, was that kindness and compassion truly are strengths. I would be less than I am without those traits as would most of us. I don't think we would even have the right to call ourselves humans if we didn't at least try and nurture them in ourselves. And they lead to amazing rewards. What I gained from my interactions with Lydia can never be duplicated by any other means. I came out of it more whole, more alive, more aware of how precious our time is on this planet. I had conversations I would never have had. I became more human and that makes it all worth it. I think that is a lot of what Anna was trying to tell me that day and finally I understand.
People like Anna exist in our lives so we can remember her words years later and see how they managed to have an impact on us. So when people ask me now how come I feel this need to help those who are dying, those who are in horrible dark places in their lives, those who feel alone and lost, I know it's because I survived where they did not. I've been there in all their manifestations and I'm still here. It's my karmic debt and as far as I can see, it's a lifetime one and one I don't mind paying.