Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?
~ Joni Mitchell, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’
‘I feel your pain.’
Shortly after President Bill Clinton uttered those words in 1992, they became a catch phrase, often spoken mockingly or in jest. Obviously, Clinton did not literally feel the pain of the AIDS activist whose comment prompted his response. Nevertheless, it helped portray him as a compassionate person who had empathy for the common folk.
Of course, it is quite impossible to feel someone else’s pain, because we are all unique, and so are our responses to events and situations. Two people can experience exactly the same thing but have completely different reactions. We can sympathize by comforting and reassuring someone who is going through a rough time in her life, or, if we have also been in that situation, we can empathize, sharing our own experience with it. Compassion, earned by shared suffering and the desire to alleviate it, is a building block of love and friendship. It is a hallmark of caring. You never show compassion for someone you care nothing about.
When you suffer – through injury, loss, or physical or emotional pain – you learn truths about yourself. Among other things, you find out what you can manage; you learn to prioritize; and you attain a new perspective. Life changes for you; you gain depth of understanding and a renewed appreciation for happiness.
Fourteen years ago, I skipped along through life like most of us do, concerned about my own situation: my husband and kids, my job, and my social circle. I was healthy and happy, and life was good. I did not give it a lot of thought because that is how it had always been for me. I could not truly appreciate how fortunate I was.
In a moment, all of that changed. Life pulled the rug out from under me, and I tumbled into another reality. The truths of my situation changed, and I was completely overwhelmed. My journey back to normal (whatever that is) started that day, although I did not know it then.
I stand before you today a different person than I was those fourteen years ago: a stronger person. I now know that I can take whatever life throws at me and still come through. My priorities reflect what really matters. I am still on that path I started that day, but now I am counting my blessings, not the least of which is greater understanding.