Essay of the Week: “Twin Compassion”

By Grace Klein

Raise your hand if you hate Frances!”

I can see the pain infect Frances’ once-joyful face.  George, the five-year-old child who craves attention from his peers and counselors at camp, is a bully.  My two fellow counselors rush to him and take him out of the room for scolding. I immediately rush to Frances. Her eyes brim with tears. I look towards the rest of the campers and say, “Raise your hand if you love Frances!”  The five-year-olds eagerly shoot their hands up. Frances glows.

My sensitivity to the underdog of the moment is unstoppable, whether it is Frances at camp or Lovage, my conservative grandmother.

Dad is an intense liberal and Lovage, his mother-in-law, is the lone supporter of Donald Trump in the family. After a few glasses of wine one night, Dad forgot about the family rule to avoid politics in Lovage’s company:

“This is probably the best thing I’ve seen all day,” Dad said, holding up a negative, cartoon depiction of Trump.

“You know, Michael, you’re making quite a bad image of our president for your girls here,” Lovage said.

Our president? 

He’s definitely not mine.”

Lovage stormed out of the room.

While I agreed with my dad politically, what he said was insensitive, given the situation. With Dad’s harsh, critical tone and Lovage’s fragile state after her husband’s passing, I knew he had to apologize. The need for conflict resolution was imminent. I convinced Dad to apologize to Lovage, and she re-joined us all downstairs.

I trace my sensitivity to Frances and my conservative grandmother to my fragile beginning. When I was born, chaos ensued. Weighing in at 2 pounds, I was put on a ventilator for a week and stayed on a cpap (oxygen under pressure) for a month. My body was connected to numerous IV lines and tubes. I could not digest food and needed all of the help I could get. After two and a half months weighing a little over 3 pounds, I was released from the hospital. However, I was a twin, and my more fragile sister, Larsen, remained in the hospital for another month. As long as I can remember, I have always felt like the bigger sister who bore the responsibility of being sensitive to her needs. When she wanted the fleece I loved, I surrendered it to her. Being a twin often produces a larger level of sensitivity to your sibling. For me, it was even greater due to the circumstances of the beginning of our lives.

My compassion was also nurtured by my involvement in the Tiny Miracles Foundation, an organization that provides support to parents of premature infants. At only 8 years old, I began to walk into the hospitals with small support bags to give to parents in the NICU. My mother would show us off as figures of hope for those struggling to think their child would ever get out of the NICU. With our big and bright smiles, seeing our faces gave parents a sense of optimism in knowing that we were perfectly normal, healthy children.

Having sympathy for others is the easy part, but acting on it in a way that changes lives challenges me to stand at times that others may feel more comfortable sitting.

The Carol family conditioned me to see the value of compassion and sensitivity. Irwin Carol,  the father of two premature twins, lost his wife when they were born. Not only in dire need of emotional support, he needed financial support.

From delivering a new stroller for the twins to cleaning his house, I frequently visited the boys in their first year of life. When I recently saw them as healthy four-year-olds, I witnessed the impact of active sympathy; compassion is innately mine.

Grace Klein, a graduate of Darien High School, will be a freshman at Colgate in the Fall.