Compassion Fatigue is a Lie
Whenever the national news came on, I would get up and leave the room.
Another black mother wailing outrage over the police murder of her son. Across the globe, a father holding the lifeless body of his child. How can these parents bear the grief? How can I bear these images? How many times can my heart break?
I needed to establish boundaries between the world and me. Rock solid, my edges jagged as barbed wire. So I used to leave the room when the news came on.
One day I was too lazy to leave. Breaking News! I don’t remember what story followed, but it broke me. Maybe it was footage of corpses laying in a street where mothers had previously walked to buy groceries. Maybe mothers were staggering among the corpses — searching. As I watched the report unfold, I was fully attentive, unflinching. All my isms deserted me: stoicism, cynicism, skepticism. There was a finality to the on-screen despair that stripped me. I was raw.
A loving kindness meditation welled up. May the survivors be at peace.
Another newscast, another story: A passenger attempts to take over a plane mid-flight, is wrestled to submission by other passengers. There is chaos, terror. Another loving kindness sentiment washed over me without my telling it to. May all those passengers be safe from harm.
And then, the train derailment, the toxic smoke, residents evacuated. Reassurance from the powers that be, but the faces of the residents registered fear and betrayal. When will it be safe to return? Loving kindness washed over me again. May they be healthy in mind and body.
My heart broke over and over and over. Completely obliterated. But every time there was another tragedy (you know the list is endless; like me, you have it memorized), my heart was ready to break again.
Sometimes I leave the room when the news comes on; sometimes I stay. Families stagger through rubble, their faces tear-stained with hopelessness. Every night, every channel, every place you’ve never heard of and can’t pronounce.
I am not overwhelmed. When loving kindness washes over me, there’s no such thing as compassion fatigue.