When I was nine or so, my father committed suicide. It’s not something I hide, but it’s also not something I introduce into everyday exchanges…unless I am being interviewed by Humans of New York or #HONY, as it’s affectionately referred to (Honestly, the photograph feels like an afterthought.).
When Brandon, HONY’s photographer and creator, approached me he introduced himself, “I have a website called Humans of New York…” I immediately thought I knew what to expect: he will ask me a question that will require some reflection, I will respond in kind. I was wrong. Here is the rest of the exchange:
HONY: If you had to address a large room of people what is the one piece of advice you would give them.
Me: Be more compassionate. No…Learn to develop more compassion.
HONY: Okay, so tell me of one instance in your life where you wish you had been more compassionate.
(I did not see that coming. My mind flooded with the too-many-to-name-times I could have been more compassionate in my life…and I must have looked stumped because…)
Take your time…this is an Oprah moment (said with a big open smile)…a single instance where you wish you had shown someone more compassion.
(Only one memory came up, and I responded.)
Me: With my mother, when I was younger.
HONY: With your mother? Wow that’s so sweet (genuinely spoken)…How so? How could you have shown her more compassion?
(This was a clear decision point, I could have clammed-up or opened-up…I chose the latter.)
Me: My father committed suicide when I was nine. Of course it was hard on both of us. But, through my own pain and rage…I could never see hers. I wish I had been more compassionate toward her. I wish I had been able to understand and accept her depression, instead of reacting against it. I know I was a child, with limited ability to cope, but my regret is not being able to be compassionate to my mother in that moment….or even years later.
(This exchange ended with a “thank you”, a few encouraging words, and a warm hug from Brandon…but it didn’t stop there, for me.)
In that moment, I realized that while I built so much of my life around cultivating a sense of compassion both towards others and myself…my motivation had always been my mother. Yes I was a child; however, it was not until adulthood that I was able to truly heal and feel real compassion for her process of grieving, her loss. And I watched her suffer for so many years. It’s not a question of responsibility. It’s a deep desire to hold another’s pain, which I spent years of degrees (BA, MA, PhD in clinical psychology) “learning” to do…with the belief that it was for my father…yet now, for the very first time, I understand that it was really for my mother. I wish I had been able to show her the compassion I have now…then.
It is stunning how a 5-minute exchange, focused on honesty can truly change your life. Thank you HONY.
And THANK YOU TO THE HONY READERS…I had no idea how impactful your responses would be, not only for me…for other readers as well.
HONY has cultivated a thoughtful and empathic community, and the fact that it is through social media is unique and truly amazing; it speaks to the positive role that social media can have in peoples’ lives if it is utilized mindfully.
This experience helped me realize that even the most seemingly insignificant human exchange can have a significant and lasting influence on your life. Never be afraid to connect, with an open and honest heart.
Humans of New York can be found on: