Last night my husband and I met with our bishop and the Young Women president to discuss some problems that our fourteen-year-old daughter is having at church, specifically in Young Women. Our daughter has Asperger’s Syndrome as well as some mental health issues that the AS exacerbates. We’ve lived in this ward since our daughter was five years old, and the patience that people have had with her, as well as the genuine care and concern, has been remarkable to me. If people have had unkind feelings or uncharitable opinions about any of my children, they’ve been considerate and careful enough to keep them to themselves, or at least away from me. I am grateful for people’s tireless efforts to make my daughter who hates church feel welcome at church, even when it hasn’t worked. This goes for the youth as well as the adults (which is double, maybe triply, remarkable).
When I was a more anonymous blogger, I felt free to write more candidly about her problems–or rather, the problems that I had with her. Now that I’m not as anonymous as I’d prefer, I’m trying harder to respect her privacy. I suppose if I were trying super-hard, I wouldn’t be writing this post at all, but in my defense, my daughter is a pretty open book. She has a hard time keeping secrets herself; I will just have to keep some on her behalf. So I will break the first rule of good writing and won’t be specific, but suffice it to say that in our meeting last night we concluded that our daughter won’t attend her third-hour class on Sunday, at least not for a while. This was not the “solution” the bishop or YW president wanted or suggested; it was offered by us and reluctantly accepted by them, with the understanding that it is intended to be temporary–but who knows how long it will last. What are we going to do with her in the meantime? Well, a couple different ideas were floated, but in the near future probably either her father or I will just sit with her that third hour. Or possibly walk around. (Or both.) We’ll see.
The word compassion literally means “to suffer with.” I’m tired, and it’s hard to work up enthusiasm for explaining the derivation from the Latin when I know I am bound to get it not quite right (having only studied Latin a few weeks in the seventh grade and lacking the requisite Google skills) and there are at least a hundred Latin scholars reading this blog who will gladly do it for me. (Have at it, Latin lovers.) But back to my point: upon and ever since learning this factoid, I have been struck by the profundity of it. I think we all understand the virtue of compassion and aspire to it in theory, but we don’t necessarily practice it that much, for one simple reason: it’s too painful. If you’re a normal person, you will naturally feel empathy for others, especially in their suffering. Some people are more empathetic than others. Generally, we think of compassion as empathizing strongly enough that are moved to act, in order to alleviate or eliminate suffering. But sometimes eliminating or alleviating the suffering isn’t possible. And then what do we do?
I’ve noticed that it’s much easier to be “compassionate” toward people we don’t have to interact with on a regular basis. I think that I have genuine compassion toward my daughter. I can relate to much of what she’s going through, having experienced it myself, but beyond that, I’m her mother; instinctively I’m inclined to view her behavior more charitably than other people might. I’ve known her all her life, and as Elizabeth Stone so eloquently put it, to have a child is “to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” That said, my daughter has given me so opportunities to practice compassion that I have grown weary of it, and prone to fatigue. Compassion moves us to act, as it ought to move us, but when our actions don’t produce the desired result, i.e. less suffering, what do we do? Well, we try something else, obviously. And when that doesn’t work? We try something else. And when that doesn’t work? We try more of the stuff we already tried. And we try again. And again.
Until we’ve had enough. I will level with you, kids: I have had enough. About a million times I’ve had enough. I give up on my daughter entirely on a semi-regular basis. I can’t do it permanently because a) that would be wrong and b) I just can’t. But I won’t pretend that I’m not fatigued, and I guess I’d also better not pretend that I hide my fatigue as well or as often as I should. I know that my daughter is suffering, but I also know that I can’t help the suffering; what I would like is to not have to suffer with her, given that I can’t do anything to solve the problem. The solutions to some problems lie outside our control; when the person who can solve a problem fails to do so, whether by choice or lack of ability (the difference between these is not always clear), the only thing for a compassionate person to do is to wait…perhaps pray, if you’re so inclined…and suffer with.
It’s not comfortable or pleasant. When we try to help someone, we expect to feel warm and fuzzy about it. We don’t expect to feel frustrated or get angry. We don’t like this anxious feeling, the irresistible urge to do something, anything, just so we can stop this suffering. We don’t expect to have to suffer long, whether it’s for ourselves or for someone else. Some things only God can fix. I’ve often thought He seems to take His sweet time fixing my problems, but, you know, He has fixed some of them. Something He has not fixed is the situation with my daughter. Whether or not He ever fixes her problems is something I can’t predict. I hold out hope that He may bless me with some inspiration to do right by her, but until her suffering is eliminated or alleviated, I don’t think He means to eliminate or alleviate my suffering with her. I think He means to teach me how He feels.