“Our Lady of Compassion” acrylic on canvas, (c) Cat Charissage, 2019


Today I responded to someone having a really hard time, what she described as a dark night of the soul. Now me, I unfortunately know about dark nights of the soul! That doesn’t translate, though, into being someone who can help someone else in the midst of one — yet, we do what we can.

I’m including my response here in case it may help someone else in these weird, scary, explosive times:

“I, too, have had this kind of dark night. Very difficult. I was taught a concept by the nuns of the Catholic schools I attended, a concept I threw out for many years, but have since found a truth in that is sustaining: when you are in the midst of suffering, “offer it up” for others who are also suffering, in the truth/hope that our sustaining ourselves in the midst of great pain can be of help and a strength for others, some way, some how. To me, when I suffer, “offering it up” is a prayer that Greater will use all things for eventual good, and a reminder that I am not alone. It helps me have great compassion for others suffering, helps me to keep hanging on without becoming bitter (or bitchy), inspires me to search for all kinds of ways to reduce suffering, both for myself and for others, and gives me strength to implement those ways in any tiny way that I can. It provides a door for the way through, even if the way is so much longer than you think you can bear.”

When I was taught this in grade school, over 55 years ago now, the full phrase was “offer it up for the poor souls in purgatory”, and was surrounded with much sentimental piety that just doesn’t work for me anymore (if it ever did. . . ). Yet, the first part of the phrase has never left me, and I think it says something important about solidarity with others, and committing to change, to using whatever power we possess to lessen suffering. It’s also a commitment to never forget what it feels like to suffer so much, so that whenever we can, we help not from pity, but from an experiential basis of solidarity. From and for “us”, rather than “for you poor people who are hurting”.

Much love to all of us.