Compassion is ... Anita's story

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Compassion is ...

Each year, Mater celebrates its identity and heritage of the Sisters of Mercy during Mercy Week.

Mercy Week provides an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of all Mater People to upholding our Mission, and culminates in the Mercy Week Mission Awards—to honour those Mater People who go above and beyond the expectations of their role within the framework of our Mission and Values.

The 2015 Mercy Week Mission Award winner—Anita Covington, Healthy Ageing Coordinator/Social Worker, Mater Hospital Brisbane—was nominated for representing ‘all of the quiet achievers, those who go about their roles with the Mater Values stamped on everything they do’.

Anita's story:

The Mercy Week Mission Award came to me unexpectedly last September in a beautifully reverential ceremony. I shall remain ever-grateful for the honour it has been to represent all the wonderful Mater People whose working lives are defined by our Values.

One thing I have found very interesting since I was honoured with my award is that almost everyone outside my working world who has heard about the award has asked a question such as, ‘What exactly is mercy?’,  ‘What’s the difference between mercy and compassion?’, ‘How do you be merciful at work?’, ‘I understand how a doctor or nurse might show mercy, but how would the guy in the boiler room show mercy?’

These questions have led to some great discussions and, as we bandied around words like compassion, kindness, forgiveness and sympathy, we decided that, while mercy is based on compassion, which we agreed was a deep awareness of the suffering of another that leads us to want to help, mercy is the action that we take based upon that desire to help.

We stumbled upon a nice definition from a book by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp (Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, New Growth Press, Greensboro, 2006, p 135) that resonated with us all: Mercy is the kind, sympathetic and forgiving treatment of others that works to relieve their distress and cancel their debt.

Moreover, what has been more interesting to me over the past few months is that, from the kind words I have received from hundreds of Mater People about the Mercy Award, not one has questioned me to define mercy. Not one. I believe it’s because we Mater People don’t really need to intellectualise the term—we live it, we see it, we hear it, we feel it, we understand it, we’re part of it, we build it, we are it.

I reflect on the snapshot I have of the first thirty minutes of my working day, on this day, arriving on the bus and seeing the familiar sight of Mater People in discussion as they purchase morning coffee, building bonds of support within our working world that so often strengthen our worlds beyond Mater, cultivating relationships with the local community, with the gentleman in the newsagency calling out to many by name.

I walk up the stairs and am greeted by the young volunteer, who has arrived even before my early start to direct visitors to where they need to go without any expectation of being paid. I arrive at the lift and enjoy the daily ritual of watching Mater People kindly directing others from the lifts, sending a knowing nod to my colleague who will detour along the path to Mater Mothers’ Hospital with a bleary eyed new father, loaded with blue balloons. I greet some of the nurses leaving from night shift and remain bewildered that they could sacrifice so much for their profession. I am amused that a cleaner and a surgeon are either side of me in the lift, knowing that one simply cannot do their job without the other and I wonder if their children who they have just dropped off at Mater Childcare are in the same class.

I arrive on the ward and as I sit to check notes for the day ahead, I glance at my nursing colleague who will sit at best for forty minutes over the next eight hours. The Ward Clerk is busy with files, but looks up to present a friendly face to a family. Individuals suddenly become teams and together they work to heal people, to create safe and better outcomes for all, with the expertise of all Mater People providing the backbone for what makes this healing possible.

I smile to myself wondering if my friends who don’t work here might ask how Mater is different to any other hospital. I could intellectualise that answer for them. I could begin by acknowledging that Mater People are not naïve, we know we face challenges that sometimes feel too big to fathom and each of us has stories about difficult situations we’ve navigated.  However, those stories become a small part of a much larger picture, a history which began in 1831 when Catherine McAuley established the Sisters of Mercy. We are entrusted with her work and Mater People do not require an answer to how we uniquely define ourselves. Mercy—we feel it, we live it, we are it.

Mercy Week centres on Mercy Day—24 September—the anniversary of the date on which Catherine McAuley (1778–1841) established the House of Mercy in Baggot Street, Dublin in 1827.Four years later, Catherine founded the Sisters of Mercy, who then established Mater in 1906.