Hope’s a robot
Compassion is flame
ignited by love
kept burning by care
dampens the flame
darkens the path
follow her lead
keep compassion alive.
Hope’s a robot
Compassion is flame
ignited by love
kept burning by care
dampens the flame
darkens the path
follow her lead
keep compassion alive.
Partnered once, with compassion –
believed in power of human touch,
dedicated self to caring, certain
I’d found my body of work
Time and circumstance intervened;
I drifted, lost in an eddy of confusion,
marital fray ending in separation –
Life moves in circular cycles, and
I revisit that work now, wonder if
parts are salvageable, viable –
fragments outdated, irrelevant –
compassion still holds merit,
what if I let it drive, put ego
in the passenger seat –
would she steer us down one-way
streets, against the flow to traffic,
rattle elusive confidence –
without trust in process, I lack
assurance of youth’s glory –
would not survive the scramble
Circular lines bypass, spiral;
we are not meant to go back;
must breathe and stop grasping.
Be compassionate when leading,
remember that pleasing
is not always possible
and that balance
calls for give and take
that needs are real
and genuine emotion
in times of personal grief
can be a catalyst for others
beware hidden agendas
when conducting business;
help young people find
their own secret gardens
never try to be all things
for all people, instead
lend an ear, a shoulder,
a hug – be a facilitator
all is doable, when ego
is willing to sidestep accolades
in favour of a shared responsiblity
and service to the whole.
Women bleed –
red blots in an otherwise
black and white world –
have learned the language,
yet feel like foreigners,
undermined by nuances;
travel this patriarchal
landscape, would-be leaders
whose compassion like blood
unsettles the ambitious,
too exhausted to play the game
corporate agendas do not align
mothers who would slow
progress to raise wholeness.
We take back seats,
submit to sermons from self-
proclaimed prophets, who mime:
words without substance,
are starving for sustenance
in a fast food, quick fix world
where harm is overlooked
in praise of mass consumption –
crave relief from the imbalance –
seek woman-only refuge
to vent our quiet rebellion,
give voice to our marginalization.
Our blood is thick, heavy,
like our passion, offensive to some
and like our power, unstoppable.
“First one to ten wins,” I tell my four-year-old granddaughter.
We are seated beside the large, corner, picture windows facing the street. It’s a favourite spot of ours, and we spend hours contemplating nature, or playing “I Spy”. Today, she is counting white cars that drive by and I am counting red.
“There’s a white one!” she exclaims, jumping up and down on the couch. “I’m beating you by one.”
“You are! Eight to seven.” Is it wrong, I ask myself, that I am teaching my granddaughter to be competitive?
“First one to ten wins a prize,” she adds.
“Okay,” I respond, smiling warmly. I love how she brings such enthusiasm to the simplest of games, and amusingly notice how she always manages to work a treat in. Competition, I decide is a natural part of life.
“Another white one! And another. That’s ten!”
“Oh you beat me. What prize would you like?”
She thinks about it for a moment, her blue eyes studying my face for any signs of disappointment. “I know!” she beams. “How about we keep playing till we both have ten and then both of us can have a treat?”
Another white car drives by and I point it out.
“No Grandma,” she chides me. “We are only looking for red cars now.”
In a matter of minutes two red cars pass and she declares that we are both winners and can now claim our rewards. Playing along, I follow her into the kitchen, wondering what it is she has in mind.
Holding open the pantry door, she considers the options. “Do you have any gummy bears?”
“No gummy bears, just fruit snacks. Would you like a cookie?”
“Umm, no….you can’t eat that.” I am impressed. She sincerely wants me to share in the honours, and as she well knows, this Grandma doesn’t eat cookies (unless they are gluten free). She yanks open the freezer drawer and finds popsicles. “Here you go Grandma.”
We sit at the table, commenting on our chosen flavours and whether or not we lick or bite our frozen treats, all the while exchanging loving glances.
“I love you Grandma!” she tells me between bites.
“I love you, Sweetheart. Thanks for letting me be a winner too.”
She cocks her head to the side and grinning broadly gives me a thumbs up and I marvel at the lesson this little soul has just taught me about compassion and win-win.
If you see me,
rapt up in battle,
wrestling a would-be assassin,
my life precariously hanging in limbo,
no professionals in sight,
please don’t walk away.
I am alone and tiring,
and my assailant is intense –
forcefully focused on bringing me down,
and I am fighting with a strength
I didn’t know I possessed,
and cannot depend on.
Am I shadow boxing?
Fighting a foe no other than myself?
Is this an act of futility
and I a fool for trying?
Should I lie down and play dead
and take my chances?
My spirit says “No!”
I’m not ready to die!
So I fight, and I fight
straining to restrain
my grip tightening
I dare not let go.
And I would not mind if you’d step in
and give me a hand
and take up the struggle with me
offering enough support
that I might call for help
now, when it’s really needed.
‘Cause, strong as I seem
my control is clumsy at best,
and it is only by some strange miracle
that I am winning at all.
So please, before I am lost,
If you see me, struggling with life,
don’t walk away.
Compassion did not come easily for me during my father’s dying years. Instead, I felt an ending to the years of tyranny, and a lessening of the tension between us. The former six foot plus commando had lost his strength and ability to intimidate. I felt sympathy for him, and an incliniation that maybe this was karma at work: a man who had caused so much pain in his life, was now suffering with his own.
Then I had a dream.
It is the thickness of the air that first accosts me: the damp acrid smell of stale tobacco, wet camel wool, and the pungent smell of rubber. I am huddled in the dark corner of the stairwell closet, trying desperately to camouflage myself behind my father’s wellingtons and the coats that hang there. A tiny thread of light, seeping through the bottom of the door, accents the dinginess of my surroundings. “Why God? Why me?” I cry into my sleeve, muffling any sound I might make. I hear the front door open, and my father’s heavy steps in the hall. “Where is he!” It is more of a command than a question. I can feel his tension through the wall that separates us. I know it well. He has been drinking.
“The child has gone to bed, Father. Come in and have your tea.” The pitch of my mother’s voice tells me she is nervous too. Never a good sign.
“I’ll be having a piece of the boy first!”
The closet door opens and my heart stops, but it is only my mother’s arms reaching in to hang up his coat. She doesn’t even glance at me – we both know that is too big a risk. The muffling of their voices tell me that they have moved away and I let my body relax a little, heart still pounding.
I wake up, instantly knowing who the tiny boy is in my dream. When I share it with my father, he says it started when he was four. One of seven children, he became the whipping boy for the family, taking the brunt of all his father’s wrath.”It was the custom,” he explained with an accepting sigh. “And why I ran away from home at fifteen.”
There were so many things I didn’t know about my father, but I was beginning to see him in a new light. I realized that all his life he had been running, not just from the violence of his childhood home, but from his own inner turmoil. He harboured a deep secret, which burdened us all over the years, and his accompanying addictions and impulsive, and sometimes violent behaviour didn’t add to our empathy for him.
Was it possible we were all victims? I wondered.
When he finally succumbed to death, all I could think was: Good for you, Dad. You made it. I hoped peace had now embraced him.
That was several years ago. My mother has since remarried, and when we speak of my father, it is ofter with a sense of relief that that chapter of our lives is closed.
The compassion my father deserved still had not fully surfaced.
It came a few months back, while attending a workshop hosted by Egale, an organization committed to human rights, specifically as related to the LGBTQ* community. I was attending as an educator, hoping to gain some insight into helping students experiencing gender issues.
The morning session was dedicated to understanding the language specific to gender identity and orientation. We learned that biology dictates how an individual presents, and that the concepts of male and female are actually polarities which describe rarities, rather than norms. Most individuals fall within a sliding scale.
Armed with this information, we were asked to think of someone we knew within the LGBTQ community, and step into their shoes for a moment. We were given a coloured star and as the person we were representing, asked to fill out the points of the star with each of the following: closest relative, closest friend, community associations, work, and aspirations. I thought of my aunt, who all her life was a closet lesbian. I could only imagine how hard it must have been for her.
Instead, I chose to step in my father’s shoes.
Silently, we all carried our stars into a circle and sworn to silence to honour each person’s process, we began the exercise.
The facilitator read from a script. She began by suggesting that as our individual we had just decided to come out to our closest family member. If we held a blue star (which I did) our family member was already aware of our preferences and willing to support us. Orange and pink star holders, while meeting with some initial resistance, would eventually gain support. They were instructed to fold the point of their star in. Red star holders would be denied acceptance from the person whose opinion they valued most. Their point was to be torn off and discarded.
The pain of grief tore through my heart. I felt the room reel, but struggled for composure. I was my father’s firt-born child and the light of his life. I was that person dearest to his heart who had rejected him when he came out to me.
The rest of the exercise passed in a blur as I felt each corner of my father’s star drop to the floor, understanding for the first time in my life that he had no hope for acceptance, and no support in his life, and that turning to alcohol and work was his only viable way of coping. No wonder he never fulfilled his aspirations: nothing in his life held him up to do so.
When the heart opens, compassion will appear. Too late for my father and I on this mortal soil, but I hope that from the other side he is looking down on me and catching a bittersweet moment of solace.
I never understood you, Dad, and in my own self-centered, self-righteous manner, I missed a golden opportunity. I have to think we were both destined for so much more.
Today, I am committing to the undoing of the pain that broke us all and pushing through to new understanding. It was biology, and not addiction (as was explained to us in the 1960’s) that caused you to identify as a woman and cross dress. That you were also attracted to females sexually, I now understand to have been part of your norm.
Imagine how much better we would have all been, had compassion, instead of self-defense, guided us. But we were ignorant.
It is my birthday today, Dad, and I wish you were here that I might share this gift with you, but you are not. We might have dressed up and gone for dinner, like we used to do when I was little. Just you and I. And you could wear your favourite dress. And I would be proud of my father who fought so hard to be in a world that could not conceive of him.
I hope this gift of compassion that has come to me late in life, will pay its way forward. In honour of us both.
*Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgendered and Two Spirited, and Questioning.
I have thought of my life as a rally race, in which I am driving blindfolded and without a navigator. There have been many bumps in the road, and several turns, but a whole lot of discovery. One of the greatest treasures I have encountered on my journey is compassion. I stumbled upon it unintentionally.
I have always approached life with passion and courage. At five, my peers would ask me to form an army against the neighbourhood bullies. Fearlessly, I would lead the confrontation, ready to fight. At eight, I had a reputation for beating anyone who crossed me. I gave up the physical battles by thirteen, but anger still lurked just below the surface.
At twenty, I applied for a job in customer service, only to be told I was too intimidating. I ended up in collections. An attitude of judgment closed me off from others. Life was a battlefield, and my sword was raised.
Then, at twenty-eight, something happened. The walls around me came tumbling down to reveal a highly sensitive and intuitive side. It is impossible, I discovered, to empathize with another, while holding judgment. Opening my heart in empathy, unlocked compassion. The world suddenly became kinder, warmer, and more loving. I laid down my sword.
Compassion without limits, I would learn, can be detrimental. I felt so wholeheartedly for others, that I forgot about my own needs. Conservation was the next treasure I needed to find in my life quest. The ability to establish boundaries, and set parameters on how I expended my compassion. Life is about balance, and while there are limitless opportunities to help others, I do not have limitless energy. Free will dictates making healthy choices. I understand, but have not fully incorporated this treasure.
The last gem I am just uncovering, although I still have a lot of digging to do. It has been a hard road to come to the realization that I do not have to be the first, the best, or the only. I am not sure, but I suspect, that it relates to my sense of not being good enough.
A work in progress.