Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Passion and compassion

Posted on September 08, 2007 by jimparedes

Sunday, September 9, 2007

I have just gone through the wringer, health-wise. On August 24, on my way from Sydney to Melbourne where I was going to do a workshop, I suddenly fell ill with high fever. I was still able to run the workshop successfully the next day, but with great difficulty. The fever continued unabated. All the time, I thought I was merely going through a bad case of the flu, which is quite prevalent here in Sydney these days.

But after seven days of high fever and debilitating headaches, I began to see signs that what I had could be something else, maybe even dengue. I checked into a hospital and after many tests and observations, was admitted with the possibility that I had dengue.

Not too strangely, the doctors here were not familiar with the virus since there are no dengue mosquitoes in New South Wales. It was my wife, Lydia, who has had dengue before, who told them that I had all the classic symptoms of it. Dr. Raul Amor, a Filipino cardiologist, also visited the hospital to help explain to the staff what dengue was.

I stayed in the hospital for five days where, at last, the debilitating headaches and fever were stabilized and finally subsided. I am now back home to further heal and recuperate.

The whole experience of suddenly getting very sick, becoming delirious, incoherent and physically dysfunctional has left me in shock. How terrifying it is that one day, I can be okay, and the next moment, have a complete change of circumstances. I remember talking to the doctors in the midst of my stratospheric temperature readings and quickly losing my thread of thought in mid-sentence. I had to rely on Lydia to finish what I was saying. It was as if there was nothing solid I could hold on to. I was too distracted and removed from present reality because my body was totally out of whack and could not be host to anything coherent that my mind had to say. Those were scary moments when I felt I was losing everything, including my mind.

The next few days were spent trying to stabilize my physical condition. On my end, while I was slowly recovering, amazed at the fantastic health care I was receiving under the Australian system, I could not help but be saddened by the cruel fact that many people in the Philippines, the poor especially, will never have access to medical resources like I was getting here for free. My sorrow also extended to all the suffering that other people everywhere in the world were going through.

Sure, I was fighting for my own life, but I felt the insignificance of my own pain compared to the infinitely worse cases of physical discomfort that many were going through everywhere — the child in some remote area of the Philippines whose chances of surviving dengue are practically nil, the “terrorism” suffered by those who do not have enough resources to take care of their loved ones who need medical help…

I was profoundly affected by the contrast of the realities that were playing before me. It hit me more than ever how suffering is hard to understand unless one is suffering, too.

While I was not exactly surprised at where the compassion was coming from, I was amazed at the intensity with which I was feeling it. I have experienced feeling compassion before, and have “dropped out” of the feeling many times. Call it “compassion fatigue,” wherein one might have the intention to help but cannot summon the spirit to do it due to the overwhelming dimensions of the problem at hand.

Perhaps because I had gone though a life-threatening situation, I decided during my stay in the hospital that I would fight against the apathy that can easily engulf me when I feel the weight of the problems of mankind pressing on my shoulders. There is always something one can do — any small thing to help, even if at that very moment all one can do is feel oneness with the rest of suffering humanity.

When I got home from the hospital the other day, I was still engulfed in profound sadness about the whole experience. Sure, I was glad to be home, but I also felt that no matter what wonders modern medicine can come up with to sustain life, there are things that will never change. We will age. We will die. And yet, as cruel and cynical as that may sound, I also know that these very realities can give one the meaning and the purpose to keep going in life and improving it not just for oneself but also for others.

Yes, life is a mess and it can be terrible. But the scene can change dramatically when one accepts it as such and lives in the middle path between the opposites! One can only awaken to beauty when he has seen ugliness.

Without suffering, would we ever know real joy?

As I lay on my bed last night, I felt the fatigue in my bones, and the tiredness of my spirit. And yet I knew I was alive — and that was something. I smiled at the thought and mustered enough gratitude to thank God for the strange gift of compassion: the realization that I am every man, woman and child who suffers.

And, since this enlightenment had to come from the awful experience of riding out dengue, I said thank you as well.

* * *

15 to “Passion and compassion”

  1. Anonymous says:


    I’m glad you’re better. But reading this article, and remembering prior ones, gave me this thought: you have the classic symptoms of mid-life depression. All of us will go through this at some point in life – mostly mid-life – yearning for the past, wishing the present were better and feeling ambiguous about the future. You will live.

    Take care.


  2. Anonymous says:

    sir jim,

    glad to hear your doing better. you are one of the most wonderful & inspiring people i really look up to and i always look forward for the sunday paper because of your articles.

    i came from a family whose been plagued with sickness and hospitalizations and it would have been nice if it was all for free.

    its very generous and empathic of you to actually be able to think of other people’s suffering while you are suffering yourself.
    wishing more of our public servants/citizens are like that.

    best of health,

  3. Anonymous says:

    hello … po Apo Jim…i hope you’ll get really well and A-OKEY soon! I started reading “so seriously” of your Humming In My Universe Column sometime in March, particularly because of the prospect of my family going to Aus, too…
    …your thoughts were really sound and oftentimes worth reading!…
    and with the fact that finally we are bound to go there on the 18th…i thank you for another “positive” write-up such as the medical treatment one gets/or provided with there in Aus… this simply assured me that our family is going to a better place and hopefully brighter future…
    cjin po ito!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hi Jim,

    Good to see you back. Have you seen Michael Moore’s ‘Sicko’. It’s a must-see!

  5. JULIA says:

    Dear Jim,
    I am so sorry that you had to go through a terrifying life-threatening illness but so much relieved and happy that you are now well and onto full recovery. As I read this entry all I could say is to remember Ecclesiastes 3:1 “To Everything There Is A Season” … Stay well, my friend. We will keep you in our thoughts & prayers. Best regards. Take care always. God Bless :-) Jun, Julia, Matthew & Junie

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  7. Craig Peihopa says:

    Dear Jim

    I have read each of your new additions to the Blog since hearing of your illness a couple of weeks ago and I have with all the others, rejoiced at your recovery and obvious improvement. I am again moved by your understanding of the nature of what it is to be human and the level of compassion we should more embody as people generally.

    “There is always something one can do…even if at that very moment all one can do is feel oneness with the rest of suffering humanity.”

    I marvel at Christ’s own gesture when meeting with Martha and others outside the tomb of Lazarus, knowing that he was soon to raise Lazarus from the dead, wept with the family. I see that the bowels of his mercy and depth of his compassion was for them and that he cared beyond all or most human emotions to try and impress or surprise. It is the little less known miracles for me of this and other great lives where I try to glean an understanding and depth to help me direct my own life, and even chart my occasional and needful course corrections.

    Thanks again for your sentiments, your compassion, your humanity AND your Health!

    God Bless

    Craig – Timeline Photography

  8. titoboy says:

    The quality of mercy is not strain’d;
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
    Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
    It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. – W.Shakespeare

    My mother had a dengue encounter as well at age 89. She came out of it all the better thanks to caring hearts. Live well and prosper…

  9. Sugar says:

    Thank you. Meister Eckhart so eloquently stated: “If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is ‘Thank you’, that would suffice.”

    Thank you Apo Jim for the continuous gift of music.

    Take care and God Bless

  10. Jim says:

    sumereisan– salamat

    julia–thanks. I am slowly but surely recovering.

    craig–you write so well you should have your own blog. Thanks for the kind words.

    titoboy–I loved the quote. Glad to know your mom survived dengue at that age.

    sugar–beautiful! I love Meister Eckart too. Thanks.

    To everyone else, thanks for the comments.

  11. Anonymous says:

    hi sir jim,

    glad to hear that you’re doing better.;) i also read your entry on ananda, i agree that your granddaughter is absolutely adorable (saw lots of pictures of her from your daughter’s multiply site). btw, i would like to request an interview with you for a health and lifestyle feature for the philippine star. could you send me your email address so i can email you the formal request?=) here’s my email: abbyrebong@philstar.com.ph thanks!

    take care and God bless you and your family.=)


  12. Marlene says:

    Hi Jim,

    When I found out a couple of Friday’s ago you couldn’t make it to Maddie’s guitar lesson b’coz of dengue, I was really concerned and prayed for you. But I knew you were in good hands and God’s hands as well.

    I know you’re still not 100% right now… so just take things easy and enjoy the early spring weather here in Sydney. Why not even take a trip to Canberra for the Floriade? You and your camera will enjoy it for sure! Hoping for your full recovery!

  13. Toe says:

    Oh dear, dengue! I hope you’re recuperating well Jim! I have a good friend who is a Filipino doctor there in Sydney who came from Cambodia (where dengue is also prevalent)… Dr. Boyet Dela Costa. If you need him, let me know. Thanks so much for the books pala. They’re with my Mom. We’ll send you a letter once we receive them here via pouch. Again, take care and get well soon!

  14. Carmela says:

    Hi Sir Jim,

    That’s good to hear that you are at last doing well and better. Take care and God bless!!!

  15. weng says:


    this thought came to me, maybe this was also the same experience of Jesus (saints) when he was on the cross. the spirit moves us to reach out to others. your article is a soothing breeze.

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