Children laugh and play and our hearts are rendered lighter as we delight in watching them frolic, yet when they suffer at the hands of another too often we see them not.
Do we see or do we look away? Do we hear or do we tune-out? Do we proclaim the virtues of compassion without awareness? Is there a chance for us if we exist in shells, too busy voicing compassion’s need to truly see the damage all around us?
Are we aware?
I’m no better than most and likely worse than many as each day passes and I take too many steps and walk too far without truly seeing those around me. Too much time do I spend focusing on not allowing depression to pull me into a shell. You’d think that fact would make me more sensitive to the ills of others. After all, no one knows better than I how difficult it is to spot many forms of mental illness.
People pass, their weak smiles and distracted gazes projecting not their inner struggles, but what’s expected. I know what it is to be behind those eyes struggling and I know what it is to look into those eyes as a victim. I’m not proud of that blindness and must work on my awareness.
The most vulnerable victims are those least visible in our adult society, our children. Who speaks up for them? I’ve worked with seniors and witnessed some still suffering painful childhoods (and too often painful senior care, but that’s a separate topic).
That a child suffers isn’t necessarily as obvious as bruises and it may be more close to home than you realize. Don’t assume that so-and-so would never do this or do that. Pay attention. Please. No one is asking that you intercede. Observe. Listen. The child may be a cousin, niece, nephew, or other relation.
Awareness must come before compassion can be extended.
Children left in dumpsters. Children tossed from bridges. Children drowned. Children beaten. Children tortured. Children terrorized. Such stories are unthinkable, but not for the children who’ve lived, and in many cases not lived, through such experiences.
Consider the child who must endure a mentally ill and violent parent or sibling. Each physically painful moment wrapped within so many more where threats menace the soul, where trust becomes betrayal.
Consider the child that grows up in a household where they become someone else’s plaything at an age where they should be enjoying innocent play, not having it turned upon them in nightmare scenarios until childhood is no more.
Consider the child who’s the product of a brutal attack, barely survives multiple attempts to abort it, lives through birth by the slimmest of margins, never bonds with its traumatized and emotionally detached mother, and is later raped. All by age eight. And then the child’s life becomes worse…
I wish I could say I made up the above circumstances, but instead they’re all true and too common—even if they happen only once. Awareness. The lack of a response on the part of others leads to scarring outcomes in most cases. We read such stories and feel our hearts breaking, but because there isn’t awareness, or because some choose to look the other way, such tales continue and multiply.
My childhood is a time I’m still trying to wrap my head around. In a way, I’m not trying to make sense of it, for I’m not sure that’s possible, but I am fighting to at least place it in a context where there’s peace in the present. The peace I seek is about self-forgiveness, forgiveness a gift I’ve given everyone else, but have yet to offer to myself as each memory unwrapped reveals another that was suppressed. So often I contemplate the gift, but have yet to grasp it. The “why” of it is the important question I need to answer.
This year I intend to quiet my depression and raise my awareness, raise my compassion, for all the children and for the child who was once me.
*It’s my sincere hope that 1000 Voices for Compassion will raise awareness when the world is flooded with blog posts about compassion on February 20th. When so many voices come together on the same day the world must take notice. #1000Speak