Small Things, BIG Caring

We are all so busy in our professional and personal lives! It seems most people are interested in going about their daily lives in a caring way, but the thought of adding more things “to do” can seem overwhelming. It is important to remember that genuine caring doesn't need to be elaborate or time-consuming, just heartfelt, sincere, genuine, and mindful. Over the years I have learned that one shift, one hour, one moment is often enough to convey deep caring. Something as simple as touching another person’s hand for a moment is a profoundly important act of caring.

When I went in for extensive back surgery many years ago, I was TERRIFIED! The operating room was set up for my lengthy and complicated procedure and it looked like a space ship to me. I wanted to run (if only I could have!) I remember praying for comfort and strength, I remember blessing all of my care providers, and the last thing I remember before the anesthesia took hold is the nurse touching my hand and whispering to me that she would be sure to watch out for me. This one brief gesture provided critical reassurance in that moment, allowing me to enter into the unknown with the comfort and protection of another human being who would be there to bear witness while I was asleep and vulnerable. Often-times bearing witness is all that can be done and yet and it is a very powerful caring act.

In difficult situations where suffering is inevitable and quite evident, I am often asked "What should I say?" My reply is usually something like, "Not much, and maybe even nothing at all. It is more important that you are fully present as a loving companion on the human path, wherever it may lead.”

Small, seemingly insignificant acts, like touching a hand or simply being present, convey BIG caring. When I am pressed for time or don’t have any idea what I could possibly do to help, I pause for one in and out breath, and then enter into the situation with full attention to the present moment.  This often enables me to see simple things I can do that may help in face to face and digital settings:

·        Silent, attentive presence filled with a firm intent to care

·        Full listening

·        One brief salutation to establish authentic nearness, for example: “I’m here and you are important to me.”

·        Briefly acknowledging the other person(s) in some way that is meaningful to them, such as saying their name, or voicing something positive about who they are or what they do.

One of my students posted this note in an open forum a long time ago. I printed it out and have it taped next to my computer. It is another good illustration of small things, big caring: “I worked with 3 psych patients today at a free clinic where I volunteer. It is difficult because boundaries are a little different with psych patients. Your comment about little things was so true! One of the patients repeatedly said ‘thank-you so much for being nice to me’ just because I used her nickname and asked about the color book she was coloring in. When she was leaving the clinic, she looked back and said, to nobody in particular, ‘That nurse was NICE to me!’ Just a small amount of consideration and compassion made such a difference.”

I have spent many brief moments in my professional life simply pausing, consciously breathing, and praying for strength and insight regarding how to fully care. This small act of regrouping and coming into the present moment has had a profound impact on the level and quality of my care for myself and others.

Every life is a series of small moments, small intentions, small encounters, and small gestures, all with the power to transform self and others in ways that are hard to imagine yet powerfully real. Caritas Practice calls us cultivate a firm intent to care and to love in all of life’s moments.