Late one Friday night, my daughter Anna's beloved dog, Jax, was severely injured in an attack by another dog. Due to COVID-19 pandemic guidelines, Anna was not allowed into the emergency clinic with Jax, so she spent several long, dark hours sitting in her car in the parking lot waiting to see if her loyal companion would live.
As I lay in my comfortable bed a few hours away waiting for text updates from the parking lot, I thought about all the dark vigils I have endured in the course of my life – the emergency-room vigils, the waiting-room vigils, the living-room vigils, the bedside vigils. Any person who loves another being –human or other species – will eventually know what it feels like to keep watch during dark hours, waiting for a loved one to emerge from their suffering or to be released from it.
Sometimes these vigils last only a matter of minutes; but sometimes they last for hours, days, months or even years. Of all the prices we pay for the joy of loving someone, these long, dark vigils are the most painful of them all.
And yet (with love there is always an "and yet"), these waiting and watching hours carve into us channels of compassion – long, silent tunnels that connect us to a deep current of love that flows through time and space. This is not your garden variety of love. Love at this level is a true buried treasure. It is the purest, most precious love known to humankind and the most powerful force on earth. To reach love at this level is a sacred privilege.
So, for all of you who are reading these words while you are waiting for a loved one to recover from an illness, or to emerge from depression or addiction, or to be released from other forms of suffering, take heart! The pain you feel is carving a channel of compassion in you. It is connecting you to the deepest, most sacred level of love.
After your vigil is over, the challenge will be to try to keep this channel of compassion open so that even when your loved one is safe and free of suffering, you remain connected to all the other humans and other creatures still waiting and watching in the parking lots of life.
There's a beautiful Hasidic story of a rabbi who told his people that if they studied the Torah, it would put God's word on their hearts. One of his students asked, "Why on our hearts, and not in them?" The rabbi answered, "God puts His word on your heart so that when your heart breaks, God's word will fall in.”
Early Saturday morning, I received a text from Anna that Jax was doing well and is expected to eventually recover and resume his boisterous, joyful, crazy life. I took my coffee out to the sun porch, wrapped myself in a blanket on the sofa and said a heartfelt prayer of gratitude for Jax and Anna, and a heartfelt prayer of compassion for all people everywhere who are keeping vigils.
When my prayer time ended, I stood up to shake the blanket out and fold it up. Only then did I discover that Jax had chewed into the blanket a heart-shaped hole.