On loss and compassion
Growing up, I’ve had friends who are in the medical field and I’ve always been a mix of curious and awestruck at their ability to deal with death. At times, it feels almost like they are impervious to it, but I do suppose beyond the professional we get to see, there is a personal side who is equally affected by it. I thought that after the dreaded second wave of covid from early to mid 2021, I too would’ve ended up in a similar position of being impervious, what with all the deaths that we had all heard of. I doubt there is a single person I know who did not lose a near one during that period and I am sure that we’re all going to face some sort of long term harm from that.
I was wrong. I have not got over that feeling of sadness and grief that one feels when one hears about the passing away of anyone. Perhaps when I was younger, when it was someone else, it might not have affected me as much, but I observe now that it does. Sure, I may not be grieving as someone who is closer, but there is a feeling of sadness. Is it empathy that grew? Perhaps. Most of all, I think it is the realisation that a person really isn’t just the person. They are a sum total of all the other people they touch in their lives, the memories they made, the legacies they have left and the actions they had taken. When they go, they take away a piece, maybe even the whole, of all of this.
I’m writing this post after a particularly harrowing week that brought with it a lot of sad news. Through the course of just one week, I learnt of the untimely deaths of 5, yes 5 people. Two were related to people close to me, one someone I knew personally from college and two from my immediate family. I won’t lie, it’s been difficult. The events of that week got me thinking about how quickly things can change.
It is rather unfortunate that I’ve known more than one person who lost their life at a rather young age. Almost invariably all the tributes to them, be it on social media or otherwise, have been those filled with regret. Regret for not having kept in touch or having treated them in a manner less becoming of a friend. I don’t know about you, but this is extremely saddening. Why have we, as a people, lost the ability to treat each other with love so much so that when they’re gone all we’re left with are regrets about how we could’ve been more in touch or better to them. Is it a function of becoming more self centred? Or is it about becoming more distant from each other in an even more interconnected world?
I don’t have an answer, but what I do see is a lack of compassion all around. I’m guilty of it too. Anger is easily available to us and so very easy to dispense. Grudges outlast lives. Guilt is used as a tool to absolve one’s own responsibility. I’d think we’re becoming a lot less loving and that’s spilling into various dimensions of our lives.
Life is short, all said and done. It can feel like a chore, a burden and something one didn’t ask for, but well it’s here and now and we’ve got to get through it. Will we be influenced by others? Yes. Will we influence others? Also yes. No one’s ever truly independent and it is best that we just accept that. Consequently, we owe it to them and ourselves to spread a lot more love than we’re doing right now. A good friend, AM, once told me that even if I don’t love what I’m doing, I can do it with love. I can’t describe enough how much that short sentence has changed my outlook to things in life and has made me a lot more appreciative about what I do and how. While I got this advice in a very specific context, I think it applies to literally everything. And for this specific post, in how we deal with each other.
It is almost a given truth that one will not like everyone they meet or know. Heck, they may even have been people you did like but don’t now. But that does not mean that you don’t act with love, kindness and compassion. No one deserves your active or passive malice and you certainly don’t need to put your mind or soul through any sort of ill-thoughts. Act with love. Acting with love doesn’t mean not being firm or assertive or unnecessarily cutting people slack. It means respecting them for who they are and treating them at par with yourself. It means not talking them down. It means not seeing them in lesser light. Being compassionate to others needn’t mean being charitable. It just means extending folks the most basic courtesies, letting them play their roles in our lives and moving on. Even if it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, don’t go about spewing that elsewhere. If you must spread something, spread love.
For the people you do love, make sure you let them know. We live in a time where you have umpteen ways of expressing yourself. You can literally see and talk to a person real time from anywhere on this earth — it is nothing short of witchcraft and you do that from a device that probably never strays more than 6 feet from your existence.
Next time you get a call, pause that damned work zoom call by just saying, “I need to take this” and take the call. Who knows what it is. Maybe mum needs that Netflix password. Give it to her. Maybe dad’s unable to reset the router. Tell him how. Do it without losing your cool. That’s love and kindness at work. Maybe your friend asked to meet for coffee. Go and grab it. Or if you can’t, offer to make another plan. Did that cousin call you a third time to plan that vacation? Maybe actually put in some real effort this time. Or not, but tell them so they don’t hang onto unreal expectations. That’s kindness in itself.
Found a meme that reminds you of a someone? Send it to them, make them aware that you think of them from time to time. Have a problem with something someone said or did? By all means highlight it, but focus on finding a solution instead of apportioning blame.
You’re going to do all of these things for the last time one day, and you’ll only know it when it’s too late. Do yourself a favour and make sure that it’s been done with love and compassion so that when you look back at every moment, it’s with fondness and not regret or sadness.
Be kind. Rewind. Spread love. This is my resolve for the time to come. Let’s make it a nicer world.
Back in September 2021, Norm Macdonald, a comedian I’d discovered only the year before succumbed to cancer. His humour was not for all and definitely hit a very specific kind of niche interest, but the man had wisdom that surpassed that of his contemporaries. A lot of what he said, wrote and did outside of his comic work dealt with being a good person and spreading love. Two instances below that struck me and have shaped a lot of the thoughts you read above.
This is his response to a fan’s question:
This is him in a live, televised interview hosted by his sister in law. Notice how he ends it (the point of me embedding it here isn’t his political opinions, but on how he talks throughout, including taking a call in between):