A friend was telling me the other day that the recent sadnesses in his own life (the death of his best friend, a cancer diagnosis for him) had torn open his heart to the sadnesses of people everywhere, known and unknown. He feels overwhelmed, he said, and he doesn’t think he can stand to care so deeply.
Gently I told him that such breaches into a more oceanic compassion are good things. They drag us out of preoccupation with our own problems and heartaches and surround us with other living beings. We see, then, that we are not alone, that suffering is a great wave that constantly rolls in and out of the living world, and we ourselves are no better or worse or different from any other. Even though it seems our heart will break from such immensity, it is actually through the cracks that beauty, kindness, and even joy can flow.
There is a poem by W.B. Yeats that has guided me ever since I first encountered it as a senior in high school. It is called “The Circus Animals Desertion,” and it ends with these lines: