Monday, February 28, 2011

everyday compassion

I've been thinking a lot about this idea of compassion lately. It's partly due to viewing/listening to this TED Talk and also just recently having seen "A Mighty Heart" (I know, I know... I'm so out of the loop when it comes to movies), the film version of Mariane Pearl's memoir of the kidnapping and death of her husband, journalist Daniel Pearl. In an interview after her husband's death, Pearl said, "They are suffering too." It gave me goosebumps. What a compassionate response from someone who has been in the midst of great tragedy, violence, and hate. Pearl also talked about how she wanted to continue "creating dialogue" between people. As sad as the story was, I was left with a sense of hope and optimism.

The dictionary defines compassion as "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering." (thanks, Compassion is not the same as pity, which is more like a "oh, that's too bad" response. Compassion prompts us to take action.

In this TED Talk, Krista Tippett talked about reconnecting with compassion, in an everyday way. Compassion doesn't just come from heroic people you read about in the news. And I would agree with that - because if compassion only happens in these large-scale, newsworthy world events, then I would say that we are in great trouble. Because it's also our everyday actions that make an impact. The small actions that can easily go unnoticed, cumulatively make a world of difference. It's not that the acts of compassion by national heroes and spiritual leaders are unimportant; they are important and inspiring, as they are examples of the human spirit.

But the reality is not all of us are in that role. So we practice compassion away from any spotlight, without any headlines. We practice compassion toward the mother in a grocery store whose child is crying in distress due to being in an unfamiliar and perhaps overstimulating environment, and we not only suspend judgment but let this mother go ahead through the checkout line. We practice compassion when we drop whatever we are doing to take a friend to the hospital. What would happen if none of us did any of these small actions on a day to day level? What would happen if we just said, "oh that's too bad" and then moved on?

I've definitely been on the receiving end of other people's compassion in very unexpected ways. In my first year of teaching back home, I made a decision that I'm not proud of. And this student's mother, who could have very well been irate, instead responded with a rare kind of understanding, kindness, and compassion. Her actions taught me a great lesson, one I carry with me to this very day; a lesson which has shaped my beliefs as a teacher and inspired me to advocate for children and families in my work. So I think that what sets compassion apart is that it is more than just an emotion. It involves action from the giver, and I would assert that it also encourages future action from the receiver. And it is in action that we truly work towards peace.

On a smaller, more personal scale, A. was initially concerned about what his extended family's response will be to me, a person of different national, cultural, and religious origins and upbringing. He talked to his grandmother recently, who said in response to his concern: "A human being is a human being." This coming from someone who has never met me, who probably has not had any exposure to someone like me, yet suspended judgment about my background and instead affirmed my personhood. How's that for everyday kindness and acceptance?

What acts of everyday compassion have you received?

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

the sacrament of waiting

I received this in an email a while ago and thought it was too good not to share here.

Reading this is keeping things in perspective for me -- especially given my overplanning, mind-on-overdrive nature.

The Sacrament of Waiting
James Donelan, S.J.

The English poet John Milton once wrote that those who serve stand and wait. I think I would go further and say that those who wait render the highest form of service. Waiting requires more discipline, more self-control and emotional maturity, more unshakeable faith in our cause, more unwavering hope in the future, more sustaining love in our hearts than all the great deeds of derring-do that go by the name of action.

Waiting is a mystery—a natural sacrament of life. There is a meaning hidden in all the times we have to wait. It must be an important mystery because there is so much waiting in our lives.

Everyday is filled with those little moments of waiting—testing our patience and our nerves, schooling us in our self-control. We wait for meals to be served, for a letter to arrive, for a friend, concerts and circuses. Our airline terminals, railway stations, and bus depots are temples of waiting filled with men and women who wait in joy for the arrival of a loved one—or wait in sadness to say goodbye and to give that last wave of hand. We wait for birthdays and vacations; we wait for Christmas. We wait for spring to come or autumn—for the rains to begin or stop.

And we wait for ourselves to grow from childhood to maturity. We wait for those inner voices that tell us when we are ready for the next step. We wait for graduation, for our first job, our first promotion. We wait for success, and recognition. We wait to grow up—to reach the stage where we make our own decision.

We cannot remove this waiting from our lives. It is part of the tapestry of living—the fabric in which the threads are woven that tell the story of our lives.

Yet the current philosophies would have us forget the need to wait. “Grab all the gusto you can get.” So reads one of America ’s great beer advertisements—Get it now. Instant pleasure—instant transcendence. Don’t wait for anything. Life is short—eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you’ll die. And so they rationalize us into accepting unlicensed and irresponsible freedom…they warn against attachment and commitment, against expecting anything of anybody, or allowing them to expect anything of us, against vows and promises, against duty and responsibility, against dropping any anchors in the currents of our life that will cause us to hold and to wait.

This may be the correct prescription for pleasure—but even that is fleeting and doubtful. What was it Shakespeare said about the mad pursuit of pleasure? “Past reason hunted, and once had, past reason hated.” Now if we wish to be real human beings, spirit as well as flesh, souls as well as heart, we have to learn to love someone else other than ourselves.

For most of all waiting means waiting for someone else. It is a mystery brushing by our face everyday like stray wind or a leaf falling from a tree. Anyone who has ever loved knows how much waiting goes into it, how much waiting is important for love to grow, to flourish through a lifetime.

Why is this so? Why can’t we have love right now—two years, three years, five years—and seemingly waste so much time? You might as well ask why a tree should take so long to bear fruit, the seed to flower, carbon to change into a diamond.

There is no simple answer, no more than there is to life’s demands: having to say goodbye to someone you love because either you or they have already made other commitments, or because they have to grow and find the meaning of their own lives, having yourself to leave home and loved ones to find your path. Goodbyes, like waiting, are also sacraments of our lives.

All we know is that growth—the budding, the flowering of love needs patient waiting. We have to give each other time to grow. There is no way we can make someone else truly love us or we love them, except through time. So we give each other that mysterious gift of waiting—of being present without making demands or asking rewards. There is nothing harder to do than this. It tests the depth and sincerity of our love. But there is life in the gift we give.

So lovers wait for each other until they can see things the same way, or let each other freely see things in quite different ways. What do we lose when lovers hurt each other and cannot regain the balance and intimacy of the way they were? They have to wait—in silence—but still be present to each other until the pain subsides to an ache and then only a memory, and the threads of the tapestry can be woven together again in a single love story.

What do we lose when we refuse to wait? When we try to find short cuts through life, when we try to incubate love and rush blindly and foolishly into a commitment we are neither mature nor responsible enough to assume? We lose the hope of ever truly loving or being loved. Think of all the great love stories of history and literature. Isn’t it of their very essence that they are filled with the strange but common mystery—that waiting is part of the substance, the basic fabric—against which the story of that true love is written?

How can we ever find either life or love if we are too impatient to wait for it?


Most importantly... thank you, A., for waiting. For that, I am blessed.

 Nature's reminders to wait... with faith, trust, and patience.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

so i will always lean my heart

So I will always lean my heart
as close to your soul
as I can

- Hafiz

Excerpt from a poem... for a day to be remembered.

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