The Quadratic Equation of Compassion

I’ve been going through something recently that has been downright discouraging.  Nothing huge.  Nothing like “Yea, though I walked through the valley of the shadow of death…” stuff.  I’m fine.  My family’s fine.  The world is good.

I mean, come on, I just got a snow-cation.  Life is pretty wonderful.

At the same time, I’ve had a grievance which has been testing for several months now, an issue that I thought time and energy and patience would mend the problem and all would be well and everything would just go away.

It didn’t.

It got worse. 

A lot worse.

Worse enough that the non-confrontational pacifist had to grab her courage in both of her hands and stop writing about herself in third-person (which is just really weird) and do something.  I actually had to confront a person about something.

Don’t ask for details.  Love you.  Mean it.  But I prefer for the details to remain obscured in some binary digital matrix where I don’t have to worry about the details.  The situation is pretty much resolved…or at least I have found a resolution with which I can happily live.

But I had been really discouraged, and given I’m not a good poker player, those emotions were stretched out across my face, almost like an emotional veil with all my secret feelings washed over my skin.

I couldn’t hide it if I tried.

And I still tried.

and still failed too.

This morning, as I walked through the halls as though I was struggling through this miasma, a math teacher (the one who gave me the jigsaw puzzle that I have now completed three times) saw me.  Asked me if everything was all right.

I struggled to find words, find a way to dodge the sadness that I was feeling.  And I couldn’t.  The labyrinth walls were too high and I was too tired and feeling too frustrated to do nothing more than open and my close my mouth like an asthmatic fish.

And she understood.  This lovely woman with a brilliant and cheerful smile, a woman who inspires hope in her students (I know…I eavesdropped on their conversations and they talked about how, no matter how stupid or forlorn they feel, she always motivates them to do better…and they always succeed) stopped me and read between the lines on my forehead and drew me in for a hug.

Age didn’t matter.  Differences in academic backgrounds didn’t matter.  What mattered was that I was saddened and she saw the edges of my grief and decided to offer me something that I needed.  A quick hug.

I didn’t want advice.  I didn’t really need a platitude, an “It’s going to be fine.”  Because, at that moment things weren’t fine and I wasn’t certain how to make things fine.  A hole was gaping at my feet and I was watching someone I love struggling within the ground and I couldn’t figure out how to pull that person out of the hole.  Not without possibly shoving someone else in.

As the day progressed, the situation didn’t improve and I had a few other gentle jabs at my self-confidence that really just made me wonder, question.  I would like to blame these emotions on stress, on sleep-deprivation.  But, the fact is, I’m wrapping up a unit that came together fairly well given the snow.  And my grades are almost done.  And I’ve slept really well.

The only physical problem I am experiencing is that my body is acting like it wants to get sick. But between water, allergy medicine, and ibuprofen, I’m feeling much better (thank you very much).

So, the biggest issue I was experiencing was that I was frustrated by the situation and that made me angry, but I was angry that I was angry because I did (and didn’t) need to be angry.  But this made me more frustrated because I was already in a bit of a grumpy mood so I wanted to be angry.  But I had no need to be angry.  Which made me angry.

Can we say that this was nothing more than a destructive cycle?

I held my tongue, kept my words at bay.  Finished the day on a fairly good note.  Made my students’ days which is another vehicle towards finding happiness.

And then, the situation tipped a little more. And that’s when I had to step in.

I ended up having to get advice from someone whom I didn’t want to drag into the situation but really didn’t know to whom else I could turn.  And I felt terrible because I was beyond ferociously furious at that point but knew I couldn’t handle the situation with such aggression.  It would lead to nowhere pretty and I knew that more perspectives counted that just mine.  I had to look at the situation much more logically.

And so I went to a colleague on whom I knew I could rely, someone who is a master at looking at things from multiple angles, who is skilled in diplomacy and saying things that matter and can be constructively critical without being hurtful.  This individual understood my frustrations and understood the situation and did his/her best to give me the ability to see past my anger and past the immediacy of my emotions to counsel me in dealing with the situation.

I am so thankful for that person.  Because the emotions retreated and logic took over and when I finally decided that I needed to do more than passive advocacy, I was able to do so with a sense of rationality but firm-handed pro activism.  I needed to stop hiding in my corner and hope to God that things were going to get better.

I did what needed to be done.  And if you have questions, don’t ask.  Please.  Because I want to give everyone the right to dignity, hence why I am concealing everything.

In the end, I resolved the situation.  Because a trio of people helped me find an answer to a question that I didn’t know how to ask.  And this group of wise women (if they had met Mary and Joseph, they would have brought diapers, wipes, and Desitin) advised me on what to do and how to make things even better.  And the anxiety fell away like a vestigial exoskeleton.  And I had my answer.  I had my course of action.

The gateway out of the labyrinth was brilliantly and beautifully open.  I had my escape.

Accidentally, I once more ran into my advisor-colleague who asked, gently, about the situation.  And I told him/her about what had happened.  And as we walked, again, I felt that surge of relief, this sense that everything was going to right itself and I could resume my happy corner.

I live and work in an environment characterized by compassion.


And I’m used to seeing this compassion being extended to the students and to other colleagues.  And I’m always impressed (but never surprised) at the level of compassion my colleagues have for everyone.

That when pain is being experienced, the division lines fall away and everyone wants to do nothing more than reach out a hand and help one another be guided through the moment.

But that isn’t when the compassion ends.  Just because the pain has extinguished doesn’t mean that support isn’t still needed.  If anything, that is when we are at our most vulnerable and are susceptible to yet more grief.

I am a blessed and fortunate woman.  What I experienced really wasn’t a desperate situation.  No lives were at stake.  No horrible things were happening.  But I still needed to know that I had a support structure in place to help me navigate coming out of my comfort zone.

Compassion isn’t measurable, except maybe in the inches of a young woman’s arms as she constructs an emotional dam to hold back the sadness before she wrapped her arms around me and held me, for a moment, to let me know that I wasn’t alone.

Compassion isn’t measurable, except when I count the letters and syllables of comfort-statements the Three Wise Women offered.

Compassion isn’t measurable, except when I count the footsteps a person will take to match my pace and offer me comfort, validate my decision, justify my words and actions which gave me enough strength to stick my head out of the nautilus shell and speak.

I’m not very good at math.  I even use this to my advantage when I’m teaching research writing to my students and am showing them that being a teacher doesn’t make me a credible resource.  I explain that if you were to use me as a resource in a math-research paper, you have already destroyed your credibility because I am math-stupid.

But, over the years, as I have taught myself math to help my children (God help them), I fell in love with the patterns and the meanings behind all the numbers and letters.

I learned that Arabic numbers have their shapes because of amount of angles within the numbers.

I learned that the delta is a symbol of change.

I learned that mathematical symmetry is everywhere in the world around me, in the simplicity of the winter-tree’s skeletal structure when they barren branches stand as a sharp counterpoint to a sunset and a golden sky.

I learned that mathematics is within the patterns that I love, that I seek when my brain is a jumble of words and emotions and I can’t turn to what books or writing for a release.

I learned, today, that mathematics does have an equation for compassion.

1x situation + 3Wise Women +1 great counselor=1 content person.

’nuff said.

Even I can do the math to see that I’m right.

2 thoughts on “The Quadratic Equation of Compassion

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