After all the emotions of the past four years — the frustration, the anger, the indignation, the fear — the compassion that radiated before, during, and after the Presidential Inauguration felt like salve on a festering wound.
Compassion is a generous emotion, the one that concerns itself not with ourself but with others. It is the opposite of self-love, the antidote to thinking first of me, myself, and I. It is caring, which is the opposite of carelessness. To not care is equal to neglecting what makes us human.
The care, the love, the feeling for the people who deal with the loss of loved ones because of COVID-19 was most palpable Tuesday evening at the Washington Monument. The reflecting pond, embraced by pathways of lights glimmering in the magic colors of twilight, gave me a chance to finally exhale. At that moment, I realized I had been holding my breath for a long time.
The words of Joe Biden, telling us that to grieve one must remember, that’s how we heal, connected me with my need for solace. The welcoming way Kamala Harris introduced Talisa Hardin, the Chicago-based nurse at a COVID ward, made me realize the need for human kindness to counteract selfishness. When Talisa sang “Amazing Grace,” I choked up, and when I could no longer hold back, I cried.
“Grieving is remembering” — these words stayed with me long after the sun had set over the East Coast. Last October, our family had not been able to say our farewells to my mother-in-law, who died an ocean away in the Netherlands. It simply was too dangerous to travel, so we postponed the ceremony. However prudent that decision, we missed the rituals we all fall back on. Our holding hands, sitting together, and telling each other stories about her that make us smile.
It is an amazing act of grace to realize that we are not alone in grieving alone. We are all human beings, in need of compassion in our saddest moments. We can hold hands as a world, and there is comfort in that. There is comfort in people who are accepting of our grief and tell us that it is okay to be sad or afraid.
That night, in bed after the Inauguration, I was like a frightened child who had been reassured by her parents. By people who have the best in mind for me. And not only for me, also for my family, the neighborhood, the country, and even the world. In spite of all the bad things in the world, it is still a good place. Yes, there still will be anger, pain, and meanness. And, thankfully, there will also be people to ward them off, to make things better, and to help me heal.
Compassion is not a political statement. It is the most human of emotions. We can only love others if we are able to feel with them. To feel for them.
Joe Biden, who knows about grief, found the right words. “To heal one must remember. It’s hard sometimes to remember. But that’s how we heal.”
Pia de Jong is a Dutch writer who lives in Princeton. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.