You died on a Saturday. I remember thinking it was too beautiful a day for death; too beautiful for your slip from pink, to gray, to gold. But now I know Death comes, regardless of swaths of stars. Regardless of being held by the sun and kissed open by the wind. Death comes. Plucking each petal from its bloom in a garden I didn’t plant.
I’d talked to you the day before yours came. I’d said hard things, things I’d packed and unpacked in the suitcase of my soul, things that seemed boxy and awkward falling from my lips as my 4-month old screamed, strapped to my chest.
I was angry.
In those moments, I was the person I had always been told to be: the one who was firm, who didn’t back down, who stated facts with precision. And I thought it’d feel good. That there’d be a cleansing.
But there wasn’t.
And I didn’t.
I thought of calling back that night. I thought of telling you one more time that I loved you, that I just wanted to keep you longer. But I only thought it. I didn’t do it. And after I woke the next morning, I was told you didn’t do the same.
The moments, hours, and days that followed were a blur. And if I’m being truthful, many still are. Because the hole in my heart is your size and shape, Dad. And while you wouldn’t want that; it’s there. And always will be.
365 days and roughly 42 million heartbeats have passed painfully since your last breaths left me breathless…unmoored…
I will turn my face toward the sky, where your name is written in puffs of white and sunlight,
As much as I would like to, I don’t believe we are born with compassion. I think we are born with the desire to be compassionate; a desire which becomes as useless as the most beautiful words never spoken, if not acted upon. I think of compassion as a muscle, which gains strength as we use it. We activate its fibers when we don’t avert our eyes and simply walk past the person holding a cardboard sign. It grows and tingles when we offer a hand, a shoulder, or our heart to someone who’s mourning. And it tears and grows stronger still, when, even at our most rock-bottom moments, we extend it to ourselves.
It’s a muscle.
It’s an intention.
It’s a practice.
It’s a choice.
Beyond blessed to be a small part of this.
I am over the moon to list my name among the many that have stepped forward, with heart and pen in hand, to take part in 1000 Voices of Compassion. #1000Speak is the brainchild of the fabulous Lizzi Rogers and the talented Yvonne Spence and is based on Lizzi’s post, which tells us WE are the Village. And WE are responsible for the health, heart and well-being of those sharing this big, beautiful, blue sphere of ours.
We all inhale and exhale under the same sky.
We ALL do.
With that in mind, one month from today, on February 20, we will be flooding the webwaves with messages of compassion. And you can take part. At this very moment, there are 869 members. You could be 870.
Below are some links for those bloggers who crave involvement:
Twitter: When tweeting, use the hashtag #1000Speak
And if you’re not a blogger, but want to spread some compassion (and hopefully, get a little on yourself), you can do so here: #1000 Speak for Compassion or email 1000Speak@gmail.com and someone will gently guide you through the process.
At the gym this past weekend, a woman struck up a conversation with me. I believe she complimented my bag (nearly everyone does) and asked if I’m a quilter.“No, no”, I responded, too eager to tell her it was lovingly made by my mother-in-law and has been my exercise catchall since. She mentioned she didn’t realize Saturdays were so busy, that she only comes to swim, that she lives in Hampshire, that she’s a writer, a widow…And my heart vernacular translated her ease of detail to this: she is very, very lonely.
I told her my husband comes to swim too, but I come for the classes. And yes, Saturdays are always packed. Later in the conversation, I mentioned that he loves to go dancing, but that I’m more of a homebody, to which she replied, “Your husband likes to dance and you don’t go? That’s terrible. Shame on you!” I wasn’t prepared for her candor, but immediately reminded myself that perhaps her husband was like mine and perhaps she was like me. And now he’s gone and she’s left remembering no’s instead of yeses and dance floors that could have been explored by anxious feet and a sacrificial spirit.
By this time we were joined by another woman, excusing herself as she wiggled past me wrapped in the club’s small white towel, length-appropriate only for those aged 8 and under. I responded then, with both women’s backs toward me, “Well, I breathe into him in other ways, so I don’t feel too bad about the dancing.” “What was that,” miniscule-towel-woman asked, “you breathe into him? That’s a lovely thought.” “Well, I do,” I responded. “We all do.” And there it was: we. all. do.
I realize there is much out of my control, which is oftentimes why I refrain from watching the news, reading the paper and do a daily dodge of Yahoo News clips. Because here’s the thing: bullets, terror and hatred are out there. They’re in every country and every city on this great big, blue planet. And when we hear of them and see the faces of those hurt or killed by them, I believe something Divine is silenced within us…something that inherently whispers goodness and tells us we’re more.
I’ll remember that Divine voice then next time a terror plot is foiled or carried out, the next time someone is trafficked, the next time a life is senselessly taken, the next time skin color is a reason for profiling, the next time a child is abused for being “different”, the next time a newborn is dumped in a trashcan, and the next time one person’s trauma is put upon another through acts of violence or emotional indifference.
And then I’ll remind myself that while I may not be able to change the hearts of the man wielding a machete in Nigeria or the woman setting her newborn alight in New Jersey, I can choose how and what I breathe into others.
I can choose kindness and love, instead of malice and hatred.
I can choose grace and forgiveness, instead of frustration and hostility.
I can choose Fullness instead of fear and life instead of death.
And if I breathe goodness into you, and you breathe it into others, and so on and so forth, then perhaps we will be the paddles which shock emotional hearts into rhythm. And perhaps then that Divine voice, our Divine voice, will whisper once more.
Our circle might seem small and our impact even smaller, but if we don’t act for fear that our actions won’t be enough, we extinguish our flame before it has even met the breath of opposition.
Make the choice to act.
Breathe Truth, light, Fullness and love into those who cross your path.
There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control. We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless and the sick exist, then we can help. – Jan Schakowsky
Below you will read bloomingspiders’ very first guest post. My friend, Lizzi, has started a campaign called Kick Cancer’s Ass and is writing in exchange for contributions to a very worthy cause (you can read all about it here). Either directly or indirectly, we have all been affected by Cancer, and I applaud Lizzi for using her platform and gifts to raise awareness and encourage donations. I will return in a couple of weeks, but until then…pull up some couch, wrap your hands around a warm mug of cider, and settle in (oh, and consider pledging your support,as well). Now, without further ado, I give you, Lizzi:
That they exist at all in Western society is ridiculous; and testament to any number of corruptions and imperfections and levels of greed and selfishness in The System. But equally, I suppose, there are groups and institutions in place to try to support them, and if (for whatever reason) these Homeless are unable or unwilling to access them and stay off the streets, then they’re going to remain an unsightly and unwelcome part of our society.
They’re going to be there in shop doorways with their mean-looking dogs and their grubby sleeping bags and their grimy unwashedness, asking for hand-outs or spare change.
And that bugs me.
It bugs me because each time I encounter a person like this, I get slammed headlong into a wall of my own judgement.
‘The Homeless’ – that sweeping category which brings to mind all the stereotypes I just mentioned, and depersonalises each member of that group to the point where we as a society (in large part) and I as an individual can walk past a person in the street, can hear them calling out their need to me, and can just be irritated that they’ve highlighted the disparity between our wealth statuses, and that I’m being silently damned by my lack of response.
There are things which I tell myself are good (enough) reasons to keep walking:
“I’m in a hurry today”
“I don’t have any ‘spare’ change”
“I am a lone woman – it might not be safe”
“What if they just spend it on drugs or alcohol?”
“What if they’re just scamming?”
“Other people have clearly given them something – they’ll be okay”
My reasons suck, and they leave me very convicted that I’m not yet evolved enough as a person to rest easy with my own conscience. There is work to be done in me, if I will engage in doing it, and I think I need to. I often say (or write) things like ‘together we’re stronger’ or ‘we all belong to each other’, and I profess to believe those things. I do believe them. I just need to stop acting like I don’t.
Because homelessness doesn’t stop someone being a person, and that’s the bit I sometimes often neglect to remember. I bring my judgey attitude instead and imagine all the awful things and use them as an excuse, if I don’t just let myself off the hook entirely with a ‘higher priority than stopping to help’ reason.
It’s not my place to judge, and it’s certainly not ‘letting myself off the hook’ to avoid acts of compassion. Yes, it’s important to remain safe, and I wouldn’t (as a lone woman) stop for someone if there was no-one else around, because that’s common sense – but the instances I’m talking about are in broad daylight in busy streets. I keep walking, and it does me no credit.
I recently saw a video which made me really angry. We were in church, and the vicar showed it to us as an example of how (as a society) we value status and appearance above people. In it, an actor dressed as a homeless man collapsed to the pavement, coughing, in the middle of a busy street. He then lay there, not moving. No-one rushed to help him. No-one even stopped to ask if he was okay. They just kept walking by, their eyes sliding over him and away again as they carried on with their days. The subtitles showed a time-stamp which moved onwards and onwards as people looked at him (if they bothered to notice him at all) and walked away.
Then the same man, this time dressed in a suit, as a businessman, was shown collapsing in the same manner, on the same street (on a different day, or at a different time) and people immediately started going over, and others stopped to check that he was receiving help before walking on.
I was angry at the attitude of people who would so readily allow their negative preconceptions to prevent them from reaching out to another human being in need. I was angry because their assumption that a homeless person lying flat on the floor calling for help was just ‘doing what homeless people do’, whereas a businessman clearly had no place lying on the floor. I was angry that the stereotypes we hold are so strong that they blind us to the plight of another human being – a precious soul with likes and dislikes and interests and family and pet-peeves and big problems and little niggles and a past and a future – and they allow us to completely, utterly ignore them when they need help.
I was angry at ‘Homelessness’.
And I was angry at myself, because I know, deep down, that I probably wouldn’t have stopped either.
Don’t get me wrong – I try to do my bit. I give to a local food bank; I sometimes buy food for a homeless person in preference to giving them cash; I buy the homeless magazine which gets published in England. But I still judge. I still look at a person in need and make a call on whether or not they’re deserving of my money or my time or my intervention, based on their appearance.
That’s not the ‘together we’re stronger’ I want to display – one with provisos and conditions.
That’s not the ‘we all belong to each other’ I want to buy into – one with exclusions and expectations.
That’s not the ‘love for your fellow human’ that I want to demonstrate.
When you are sick or hungry or lost or alone or imprisoned or hurting or just struggling, and you need a neighbour, I want to be able to say “Yes – I will be there.”
And it shouldn’t matter to me who ‘you’ are.
Lizzi is a Deep Thinker, Truth-Teller and seeker of Good Things. She’s also silly, irreverent and tries to write as beautifully as possible.
She’s living the life of Silver Linings and *twinklysparklygoodness* because two miscarriages and a subsequent diagnosis of spousal infertility will rather upset anyone’s applecart. She borrows other people’s children in the meantime.
At the moment, she’s trying to help kick cancer’s ass by ‘selling’ her writing in exchange for donations to your favourite cancer charity. Give her a hand, if you will, and get in touch if you want her to write for you.