One of my sons just sent me a comic. This happens more often than you might think with my family, especially my younger son & his cousins. I always enjoy the comics; they’re full of colour and meaning and usually a moral. In many ways, comics are the new fables. From the Sandman to the Batman, there are ‘morals’ in so many of the episodes (even when things go very badly…) The strip (from Sheldon© Comic Strip, a daily webcomic by Dave Kellett) is about reaching out. Here it is:
While I don’t accost strangers (I may start, after reading this!), I do try hard — every day, every time I interact with people — to let them know I care about them. And it never fails to humble me how people react: I got a free upgrade to business class last time I flew. All because I talked the leg off the nice young man behind the check-in counter. I was just telling him he probably should add writing to his life…😉
Or the times I get free coffee, apparently because other folks are cranky?? All I did every time I can remember (& there are more than I probably should confess to!) was treat the barista/ cashier like a friend. Respectful. Affectionate teasing. Comforting, when it’s obvious someone has been pretty unpleasant to him or her.
The fact that this behaviour is — at least for my son — associated w/ me, bringing me to mind? Wow. It doesn’t get much better. So maybe I do need to start going up to strangers. Wait… I kinda already do that. I don’t tell them I hear voices (even if I do, I know I shouldn’t confess THAT!). But I do find something genuine to compliment them on. Or initiate a conversation. Or just smile as big as I can (and folks, I’m from Oklahoma: we can smile BIG here on the prairie!).
Try it. After all, we’re all connected. It’s not just good Buddhism, folks. It’s good human being-ness. Life is tough. Reach out & touch someone, like the old saying goes. You’ll feel even better than they do. And who knows what that one random act of kindness may set off? Maybe a chain reaction. How cool would that be??
Most of the time, I’m very happy being me. I have a pretty wonderful life: my beloved is damn near perfect (he even does BOTH our insurances & taxes!). As are my sons, my DIL, my grandson (possibly the most perfect of all…). My sisters are my best friends; my nieces are amazing; my nephews love me dearly. I’ve had a fulfilling career — even my cat is great!
And then I begin to compare something — it can be anything — to someone else, and I falter. To be honest? I wince. Tuck my fragile beginner’s heart deep within dark & shadowed recesses, and worry. And feel inadequate.
I just applied for an artist’s fellowship & residency. Thankfully, I’ve already submitted my application, or I’d be second-guessing everything from my writing samples to my resumé!
Now please remember: I’ve been writing for a verrry long time. All my life, really. I have multiple degrees (2 in writing, for cryin’ out loud!), and this still terrifies me. This feeling that I won’t be picked (& to be honest? I probably won’t!), that I’m once again the last picked for softball…
It’s silly, when you see it in others: this reversion to 12 years old. The fear that you’re not good enough, that no one will ever love you. But when it sneaks up on your battered beginner’s heart, cold tendrils of fear curl tighten. You can’t breathe well. And you’re once again flinching from the ‘recognition’ that you aren’t good enough. Won’t ever be good enough.
Even if you have three degrees (2 in writing!), and teach the subject! Even if you’ve been breathing — trying to remember what’s really important — for decades.
Add empathy and stir. It’s that easy. Really.
But here’s the problem: we seem to have forgotten empathy even exists. Along with respect, consideration, just plain manners. Today’s political scene is a prime example. There is a complete lack of respect or empathy on the part of far too many who aspire to be a world leader.
On the news, we have ersatz ‘leaders’ advocating hate. Telling us that hate is the only smart way to deal w/ differences. War is the only way to ‘win’… Win what? I don’t understand any of it.
I want to tell you a story. (Don’t you love stories?) I want you to pretend that you — maybe a white person — have a son (also white) who marries a wonderful woman. Who happens to be black. And that you have a lovely mixed race son, who looks black. And by many (white) people’s standards, would be. Black, that is.
Now: wake up every morning to news of a young black man’s death at the hands of police. Or even — saddest of all — a black male child’s death, one carrying a toy gun. At the hands of a (white) policeman who didn’t bother to check out the call-in detailing that the young teen’s ‘gun’ was almost certainly a toy. But at the end of the day? Your son — beloved of your heart — is dead. Left in a pool of blood, to die alone & terrified. THROUGH NO FAULT OF HIS OWN.
Now, another story. This one has you imagining your child — a son, again — in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps he’s gone overseas to see the world, as my younger son did. And then tragedy strikes: there’s a coup, or a riot. Something that brings troops in.
Your son is picked up by these troops, and sent to prison. Without any trial, without any access (for MONTHS) to an advocate. You don’t hear from him. You think he’s dead.
But no, he’s being tortured as a possible CIA spy. Tortured for weeks on end. And it’s months before you even know where he is.
This is Guantanamo, folks. Where young men (some 15, 16 years of age) were picked up for being at the scene. There was NEVER any ‘evidence’ they’d done anything. If this was your son, how would you feel??
We seem to be having a crisis of hatred. Those who don’t worship our way, those who don’t look like us, those who are ‘other’? Too many Americans are deeming them unworthy of compassion, respect. We don’t waste empathy on ‘others,’ regardless of what the world’s many religions (including Christianity) teach.
Nope. No turning of the other cheek. No ‘love your neighbour, do good to them who hate you.’ No empathy. No, our politicians today are comfortable calling for death, calling for WWII tactics to ‘rid us’ of those who look different, who worship different. And I have no idea how to fight back. Somehow, I don’t know that empathy works on haters…
I’m not much of one to look backwards. The good news? That means I don’t second-guess myself a lot, thankfully. But it also means I don’t have any childhood friends, really — a lot of family, but no school friends. Only one high school friend — the art editor of the high school journal I was editor of. That’s it: no high school reunions, no college reunions. The man who’s been my brother-of-the-heart these many decades, and his wonderful wife are about all the folks I retain from my well-spent youth.
So the stories of who I was ‘then’ don’t surface much, other than in family circles. And as the eldest of the 4 daughters, there really isn’t anyone who was part of my social circle — too big an age gap. When my sisters chastise my forgetfulness (legion!), I don’t mind. No one’s around to remind me, as all of them have childhood friends to do. There’s no one to exchange stories with, and that’s just fine.
A friend — the art editor I mentioned — just posted a picture of the city where I went to high school. Long ago & very far away, in an institutional building by a khlong — a canal with boats poled by Thai gondolier, or powered by rackety small engines. I spent two years at that school, and the villa pictured was one off a soi (street) I knew well. It’s a city I traversed by foot, by taxi, by bus, and by samlor, the motorised bike cabs that have no equal for price & adventure.
I haven’t been back in more than 30 years, a long time in the life of an Asian Tiger state. Streets are beyond jammed, and the quiet pace of life beside the khlong is far more hectic, I hear. Yet another reason I don’t live in the past much — it’s an imaginary place, really. Nothing remains static. Even death brings (terminal) change.
And this, you may be wondering, has to do w/ beginner’s heart just how?
It has to do with who we are — the sum total of so many things. But also — more perhaps than we realise — with places, with the where of then. My spiritual tradition, the foods I love, my affinity for languages & language in general? These are the result of my peripatetic childhood: 10 moves in 12 years, all before I was 18. And more after. This city bisected by its river is as much home for me as my grandmother’s & great-aunt’s little house where I slept on the sofa.
It’s not that I’m uninterested in who I was, per se. Rather, I’m less interested in the people I no longer know. There is little time for who I was then, when who I am now — and who I am becoming — is so immediate. If the heart is a map, then where we were is much of who we are. So…as others connect w/ the people of their past? I’m reading the history of two countries that were really never mine. I’m looking at pictures of other homes in other places & times. And I’m perfectly okay with that. Except… It makes me homesick.