Holding Space

“A heart shattered in a thousand pieces…has more surface area.”

-Gil Fronsdal

This evening I drove downtown in a daze. The lights reflected on the wet surface of the road. I searched for a parking spot. Every space was full until finally, I noticed an empty one. I drove around the block and just as I reached the spot, someone else made a fast U-turn and spun into “my” spot. I was instantly filled with a red-hot anger. I wanted to hit the gas pedal and smash their perfect Lexus. I wanted to burst into tears. I wanted to just turn around and go home.

I’m struggling.

On two opposite coasts, dear friends of mine have somehow summoned the courage to seek help for mental health issues and instead of being quickly and efficiently accepted and treated (the way they would be if they had, say, a broken leg or punctured spleen), they have received…nothing.

“I’m losing my mind,” they say.

“Next appointment is in three weeks,” says the receptionist.

Or worse: the door is literally locked when they arrive seeking help.

“I’m thinking about suicide.”

“Sorry, inclement weather,” says the automated recording.

What does it mean that I am not surprised?

And Paris. Beirut. Rwanda. Somalia. Liberia.

The refugees. Christ, so many people. Babies, children, dads, moms, grandpas. We call them “refugees” and that word somehow protects us from the reality. We can pretend like that is something that would never happen to us. Our reality vs. their reality. Their toddlers vs. our toddlers.

My heart breaks.

A five-year-old in Nora’s school has sickle cell anemia. Most afternoons when I arrive to volunteer, he’s sleeping with his head on his desk while the rest of the room whirs around him, electrified by kindergarteners. Some weeks he’s not there at all.

What can I do?

Ignoring my fear brings more fear. Dwelling in anxiety creates more anxiety. Going into a fog is a coping mechanism, but it disassociates me from the world which, ultimately, is not effective or helpful. I want to be helpful. I want to make a difference. I want to make the suffering stop.

The Buddha stated that compassion is not a privilege. It is mandatory and should be intentional, in order to respond to the world around us. Our practice of loving-kindness counteracts the violence and hatred around us. This is what we can do.

I am still processing this. I still feel powerless. Part of me thinks it’s ridiculous that my thoughts – or anything I do – can change anything. The despair feels so much bigger than me. I feel guilty thinking about Christmas gifts or worrying over my own abundance. It is hard to hold a place for everyone’s struggle.

However, it strikes me that there must be a place for joy as well. I am one person. I am struggling. But I still have hope. And compassion. I hold these – along with an ability to observe without reaction. This is what I can do.

Hold on.

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