Families and Compassion

Families and Compassion


Having lived a great distance from my family since I was twenty, I am the first to say that my heart feels the pull of those closest to me often. These are the people that have known me for the longest and know my true self well. As the second of five children, I find that we all fall effortlessly into our birth order roles for better or for worse each time we see each other.

My older sister is just that, that oldest of the flock. She has been “in charge” of the rest of use since as long as I can remember. Back in the times when children were allowed to be home alone, she was our babysitter in a house full of rambunctious trouble makers. She could not have been more than ten or eleven and I hesitate to think what could have gone wrong. As such she still likes to direct the rest of us and gets frustrated when she feels she is not being heard or respected. As the second daughter and second child, I was and am overly sensitive. A bit more of a dreamer than my sister, I didn’t like confrontation and disharmony of any kind. My sister often spoke for me and she still does at times, even if I don’t want her too. The next two siblings are boys. The first being hyperactive as a child and is still very energetic as an adult. As the first born son he plays that role well, always dictating his “plan” and not always taking into account others perspectives. He has the alpha male and leader mentality. The fourth child, another brother, played the part of the peacemaker. He still does this as well, except his peacemaking comes in the form of stepping away from the action in order to remain neutral. Finally, the fifth child is my little sister. Much younger than the rest of us, she is of another generation and we all struggle to find connections between us.

I love all of my siblings dearly and always will. The thing about family is that the relationships vacillate between love and disdain depending on what is happening and what discussions are being had.  It is a grave misnomer that just because we all came from the same parents, that we will view the world in the same way.  This could not be farther from the truth. The challenge for me continues to be to honor and respect my family without forcing my opinions and views on them in the heat of the moment, difficult at best. While I tend to stay away from confrontation, if pushed up against a wall, I will become quite stubborn and stick firmly to my views. I forget that it is not as important to be right as to be happy. It gets lost in the emotion of the moment. As a member of a family of very strong willed individuals, this is magnified when we all gather together. Yes, we love each other. Yet this love can become secondary when one is set on getting a point across.

I like to think about the story of the butterfly adapted so well by Paulo Coelho. Each person has to arrive at their destination in their own time. No amount of cajoling and argument will get them there any faster. Read the excerpt below and envision the butterfly as another family member.

The Lesson of the Butterfly

by Paulo Coelho

A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. It managed to make a small hole, but its body was too large to get through it. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still.

The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled.

The man continued to watch, hoping that, at any moment, the butterfly would open its wings and fly away. Nothing happened; in fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shriveled wings, incapable of flight.

What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings.

Sometimes our need to help is just that, our need. Everything will come about in due time. It is painful to see people that we love struggle to free themselves from their self-made cocoons. It feels so personal and we can take on the struggle as our own if we are not careful. All we can do is love one another, consistently, constantly and with vigor.

I like the Quaker practice of Clearness Committees and Circles of Trust. These are comprised of a close group of peers that are tasked with listening and just being present for the person in need. No judgment. If only family could do the same. Judgement is rift in families, and I have never understood why this is.

“That’s why in a Circle of Trust we have a Touchstone for “No fixing, saving, advising or correcting.” It means that you don’t convince other people to see things your way or give them your idea of a good solution. Instead you provide non-judgmental support that empowers them to explore the questions and answers that will be the most meaningful to them.”


I have renewed my commitment to stay true to myself during my visit with my family yet respectful of others views. If this means sitting quietly while others argue about politics, religion or any other hot button issue, so be it.  It is a part of my life lessons and I continue to give it my best shot. Love is love, no caveats or stipulations. I accept my siblings as they choose to show up, and my prayer is that I they extend the same courtesy to me.

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