Tag Archives: compassion


“Can I come in?” Gator asks me softly, after having knocked almost imperceptibly on our apartment door.

“Of course,” I answer, opening the door further to let him enter. “I’ll call Matthew.” Turning my face to call around the corner, I shout out, “Hey, Matthew, Gator is here.”

I hear the door to my son’s room open. Then, Matthew rounds the corner, entering the small living room to our modest, two-bedroom graduate-school apartment.


At this university, the housing units for graduate students, where we live, were built post-WWII to accommodate the students attending university on the GI Bill. Refurbished and updated at least twice since they were first erected, these apartments were meant to be temporary, yet they remain tiny spaces of retreat for graduate students, visiting faculty and their families.

Gator crosses the living area in five or six easy strides, coming to sit with Matthew at the table-level breakfast bar, which separates our galley kitchen from the sunny living area facing the lake. It was here, not long ago, that Gator underscored his preference for being referred to as “Gator” and not by his given name—a mark of burgeoning individuation and entry into a healthy adolescence.

Moving into the kitchen and past Gator and Matthew, I open the door on our refrigerator to find some peanut butter and apples to have with crackers.

Gator sits down wearily and begins to explain that he had to travel down the hill to visit us after walking out on a one-sided argument with his mother.

“She kept trying to get me to repeat this: ‘I will become a straight-A student. I want to be a straight-A student.’ At first, she was just saying it, and then she was right in my face with her voice raised. I told her calmly that I was not going to lie…

“I have never been a straight-A student. What makes her think that she is going to turn me into something that I am not—something I have never been? And, I won’t lie,” Gator shakes his head in quiet frustration as he finishes explaining his sudden appearance in our home.

Trying to sound nonchalant, I ask Gator, “Does your mom know you’re here?”

Gator continues the thread of his story, “Maybe she is all uptight about scholarships for college or something. But, I won’t lie like that. Don’t you think lying is worse than facing the truth?”

Gator’s question hangs in the air. Matthew is an exceptional listener, leaving Gator a lot of space to work through his conversational experience.

Then, Gator turns to answer my earlier question, “No. she doesn’t know where I am. She just knows that I went for a walk.”

My heart goes out to Gator. I feel gratitude for his presence and the feeling that he considers our home safe space. He is a “good kid”—a thoughtful kid.

“Hey, Gator, would you be alright with my calling your mom, to let her know that you are here?” I ask.

“Yeah, go ahead. She might be getting concerned, with the fight and all,” Gator responds.

As I dial, I think about the issue of conviction, as a trait, and how our own rigidity—in the areas of belief, desire and relationship—can lead us to breaking rather than carry us forward and over the bridge to the safety of compassion and release.

Why are we so hard on the people we love most?

Patience & Compassion

We love our veterinarian–I and my dogs. He is an all around good guy who knows his stuff and who shares his professional knowledge liberally. Dr. Veterinarian also ensures that his staff is well informed on current trends, which makes life much easier for pet owners with routine questions.

The other day, one of my dogs and I were visiting his office with a minor concern. Near the end of our appointment, I mention to the vet how happy I am with the dog food we are using, pointing out my canine companion’s dark and extra richly glossy fur coat.

The vet concurs, then turns to me, asking, “What are you feeding him?”


My mind goes blank. I can see the dog-food bag in my mind’s eye–actually the entire line of offerings from this same company, but I cannot “read” the brand name on a single, envisioned package.

Still struggling to pull a name out of the air, I respond meekly, “Well, I can tell you what the entire line’s graphic design looks like, its color schemes and where to find it on the shelf at the local pet-food store.”

Shifting my focus from the bank of visual images in my mind to gaze back at the veterinarian’s face, I am suddenly five-years-old again, facing my father in a rare moment of impatience with me. The veterinarian’s facial expression is one of contorted, impatient disgust, telling me he does not have time for my bumbling lack of recall, especially this late in the afternoon near the end of the week.

Crestfallen internally, I decide to keep my mouth shut about my mild aphasia. Leaving the examination room, I pay my bill and exit with what little dignity I have left.

Walking out of the clinic’s front door, the sun greets me with the same comforting warmth it always does, as I ponder how many times I must have sent my own students, clients and acquaintances back to their childhoods through my professional or personal impatience and lack of compassion. Notes to Self: Be more patient. Be more compassionate.

Spiritual Scars II

Standing in a very long check-out line to make several purchases, I overhear pieces of several conversations between the woman in front of me and a crew of her closest friends. The woman has recently relocated to escape a situation of domestic abuse.

Pieces of her story hang, unfiltered, amid the air of the retailer’s big box.  She is in town because a friend paid for her transportation, as well as offering her a place of refuge. Her former boyfriend, it seems, had an “addiction” to a string of old girlfriends and prostitutes, though this woman had had hopes of reforming him. The stitches she needed in her face caused her to give up her dreams of reform and seek the help of an old friend.


At one point in our long wait in the slow moving line at a cash register, a woman behind me asks whether or not we are mother and daughter, out on a shopping trip.

I reply, “No. No, we are not.”

Yet, the young woman in front of me could be my daughter, she is young enough, or your daughter or our daughter because her narrative, in many ways, makes her everyone’s daughter.

At one junction in our long wait and in between the young woman’s brief  conversations, a scruffy looking man enters the store. The young woman turns around to face me, asking in an urgent whisper, “Did you see that? That man has a gun.”

“No, I did not see it. Where was it on his person?” I ask, leaning in to reply.

“It was tucked into the edge of his jeans, by his side.”

“If that is what you saw, then you should report it,” I caution.

“I can’t. I am too scared.”

“I did not see what you saw. But, if you are sure and remain concerned, then it should be reported.”

With resolve entering her voice, she says, “With everything that has been in the news lately, I have to say something.”

The young woman motions to the man bagging purchases and whispers a description of the customer to him. Soon, the store’s security guard has been alerted. A search of the immediate area ensues.

Then, in an uncomfortable series of minutes, everyone in line observes as a very sinewy and hardscrabble of a man goes through a brief search. The man is not happy about the invasion of his privacy or the public spectacle. The “gun” is revealed to be an oddly shaped cellphone case attached to the man’s belt.

When the search is over, the store employees apologize to the older man, as he collects–in palpable consternation–the jacket  he had to remove. The tension around the scene begins to dissipate.

Meanwhile, our line has continued to move and the young woman has completed making her purchases. As I take my turn at the cash register, I hear the store security man and the bagger attempt to lighten the tension in the air by making several inappropriate remarks about the young woman’s inability to judge situations and about her “seeing things.”

Turning to face both men, I break my silence to explain that the young woman who reported the incident had just left a situation of domestic violence. And, given her experiential profile and the news lately, she had every right to be concerned about her personal safety in a public place. Her perception of the situation was completely understandable.

This narrative  reminds us to remain compassionate and to foster a respectful attitude toward our very singular perspectives on life, because–as strangers–we never really know what is packed away in another person’s travelling bags.

The Poor Will Always be with You

Over tea one day, a friend tells me a story about visiting a fiscally conservative Christian church. During the sermon at this particular church, the piece of scripture where Jesus says “the poor will always be with you” is used to support the argument that Christians really need not concern themselves with delivering charity to those who are economically disadvantaged because such charity would not effect a substantial change around the broader and ongoing issue of poverty.

My friend’s story reminds me how far we, as individuals, are capable of straying from the Grace of our shared humanity in an effort to protect, defend or uphold our sometimes selfish comforts, myopic philosophical positions or even personal idiosyncrasies.


When sacred scripture is taken out of context, misread or interpreted solely to support our comfortable social positions and views, it can cloud the very Light which binds us as One. (I would note here that such attitudes toward scriptural interpretation(s) are not unique to Christians, but that this phenomenon exists among peoples of a wide variety of religious and philosophical traditions, where individuals or select groups desire to safeguard certain of their habits, decisions and/or lifestyle traits.)

Looking at the larger context in which Jesus makes this statement about the poor, we learn that Jesus is receiving the gift of an anointing from a woman, who clearly wishes to honor Jesus’ work through her generous ritual, physical act.  The perfumed oil she uses on Jesus’ body is expensive. The disciples do not give voice to discontent regarding the act of anointing, but to the discontent they feel about the use of an expensive gift of perfume. From the disciples’ perspective, such an expensive commodity could have been resold; and, then, the money from that sale could have been used to alleviate suffering among the poor.

It is only after the woman and, indirectly, Jesus are admonished by the disciples that Jesus, in turn, admonishes the disciples themselves by stating, “Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.” [Mark 14: 3-9]

There are a great number of interpretive readings or lessons that might be derived from this piece of scripture.

Jesus may be reminding us that working for “social justice” is an ongoing task and that those doing this work need to take care of themselves—physically. (Remember that the anointing is not the issue here.)

In another interpretive reading, Jesus may be asking us to honor each other as individuals, because none of us knows how long we have on this earth, even as we concern ourselves with issues of deep social concern in our Grace-centered lives.

Another aspect of this narrative is Jesus’ reminder to receive gifts graciously and humbly from those who wish to give from the seat of their open and generous hearts, because God alone knows about the timing and leadings which precede an individual’s actions of compassionate generosity.

In the gospel according to Mark, Jesus concludes, “She hath done what she could: she is coming aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.  Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel is preached throughout the world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.”

God knows us by our mitzvahs.

Using the more complete scriptural context, the greater lesson may be that we, as individuals, will be remembered for the selfless acts of kindness we perform and that those outside of said acts should not judge them for being extravagant or out of place.

However this narrative in its various interpretations may speak to us on a given day or in a given moment, this reader cannot find anything in the text to support the idea that we should abandon caring for one another or that consistent, conscious and kind acts of charity should be denied to anyone–poor or not.

There will always be a need in this realm for social action which acknowledges the sacred nature of the physical frame, through which we may choose to serve the Light, and that of Grace which resides in each of our hearts.

See also Matthew 26: 6-13 and John 12: 2-8.

Spirituality: People in the News

While I was attending graduate school, my husband took contracts as a foreign-language interpreter. As a working professional, he was invited to join a small group of interpreter/translators, who met monthly in the metropolitan area where we resided. (Interpreters work with spoken language; translators work with written language.)

Although we were very busy, these monthly luncheons and dinners were much anticipated, joyous events with an international vibe, which included husbands, wives and sometimes children. A great deal of business information was shared, as well as the occasional matter regarding our personal lives.


The group’s informal membership represented a wide range of cultures. Many members had a wife or a husband who had emigrated, after marrying a U.S. citizen who had been overseas studying or on exchange. Thus, there was always something interesting, new or fun to learn from someone.

One afternoon, after sitting down to lunch in a small restaurant conference room, I heard several people discussing a recent tragedy which had been in the local news. (A local family had lost their only child in an accident.)

As the incident was discussed, I listened in surprised silence as minute details, which had not been part of the news reports, were carefully related to the membership in attendance. The discussion was not a sensationalistic disclosure, but a compassionate and concerned relating of the accident’s unpublished details and emotional facts.

At the time, I remember observing the tender care the speaker was taking in relating additional  information about a very public news item and wondering why such a level of discretion was being applied to an incident which has been broadcast over almost every medium in the city.

Then, at some point in the telling, it became clear the the “people in the news”–the strangers–were actually a family who had attended an interpreter-translator meeting, which my husband and I had missed.

My heart fell. This “news item” was not about “those” people in the community out there, but it was about “our” people in our immediate community right here.

We are all “the people in the news.”

Thus, all tragedy should be addressed, spoken about, reported on and reacted to–with this same level of compassion, as if whatever has occurred has happened to one of our own.

Forgiveness II

As I lay in bed that evening, I pondered one of my working theories about people and personalities. Some people are like the beautiful hard, fruit candies of my childhood—with liquid centers of pure flavorful goodness inside.  This is where the best part of a person resides. A “hard-candy personality” usually yields the most amazing life flavors when the outer shell finally gives way.  I went to bed wondering what my new neighbor’s story might be.


Having adjusted to the altitude, we settled into a new routine.  And, we started to bump into our nearest neighbor, Martha, with greater frequency.  As it turned out, Martha lived alone with three large cats and, according to her own report, had gone through as many husbands as Elizabeth Taylor.  Truth be known, I do not remember who broke the ice first, but pretty soon I was being welcomed over to Martha’s place for an hour or so of girl time on weekends, to simply lay in a recliner, pet a cat or watch some television. (We do not own a television.  And, all families and family members sometimes need mini-breaks from chores and big personalities to remain strong and diplomatic.)

Our relationship with Martha unfolded from there. Martha and I went for rides in her giant eight-cylinder truck to the local greenhouse.  We both benefited from breathing the moist greenhouse air, petting the resident cats, lazing about the only koi pond in town. It was after these outings that Martha showed me the best local haunts for real Mexican food.

With Martha, we hosted impromptu holiday dinners, inviting the neighboring residents who were often miles from relatives.  We planned and cooked for picnics, sharing stories about the times, people and circumstances that were the best in our lives.  In essence, we formed a new extended family with our fellow residents.  Martha served as the primary host, always preparing the party’s main dish. She offered no-nonsense wisdom and life-experience straight from her heart.

Perhaps the most amazing gift we received, as a family of three, was the unbridled generosity that was at the core of Martha’s being. We often returned home to find a huge pot of still warm stew on the porch.  Saturday mornings Martha delivered fresh, whole fruit pies. There were hot biscuits, pumpkin bars and an amazing variety of other delectable dishes made by Martha, who had found a recipe she simply had to try.   We relished our roles as official, new-recipe (or tried-and-true recipe) taste-testers.  And, no matter how many times we helped her shovel her truck out of the snow or offered a “reciprocal” dish of one, modest serving, there was no way we could ever hope to fully honor the natural generosity in Martha’s heart.

The years have erased the details about which of our households received the nudge to move first, but start packing our households we did.  One day, as Martha and I were swapping boxes, to ensure that we each had the sizes we needed for our independent moves, she looked up at me saying with an unusually pained expression on her face, “I want to tell you I am sorry.”

“For what?” I looked up incredulously, “You haven’t done anything except be kind and generous toward us over the past five years.”

“I am sorry for not signing on as an emergency contact for your child after you first arrived.  I didn’t know you.  I just could not take on one more thing.”

“Oh, Martha, no apology is necessary.  Everything has been forgiven.  You have been an exceptional neighbor—every step of the way.  Put that out of your mind and move forward in peace.”

Forgiveness I

Things fell into place like clockwork during the process of our relocation from our native region to a completely different area of the country. Providence seemed to be at work in each transaction. We traded two smooth-highway vehicles for an SUV capable of handling unpaved roads and mountains. We walked from a week-long stay in a hotel room into a wonderful housing opportunity at the foot of a hill and with a view of a picturesque mountain. We were on the edge of Federal Forest land. And, two buildings away from our own, there was a coffee shop.


Setting up our household in a region without family or friends nearby, we were at a complete loss for only one thing: the additional, local emergency contact required on one of our child’s school forms. Our new property manager, a busy working mother, with three small boys of her own, had her hands full. When I asked about whom she might recommend to us for the local, emergency contact, she suggested we talk to our closest neighbor, whom she described as a very regular and reliable person.

On the afternoon I knocked on our neighbor’s door, I did not know what to expect. Although we had been in residence for two weeks already, I had not yet met our new neighbor. She was always gone to work before we rose and returned home after work and shopping—long after we had settled in for the night. Then, in one brisk motion while I daydreamed, a tall woman with short gray hair opened the door. I could feel the outside air being pulled into her apartment with that abrupt motion as it swept past my body. I outlined our situation, explaining that she had come with the property manager’s highest recommendation. Attempting to appeal to her sense of compassion, I explained that we needed just one additional local emergency contact for our child’s school form. I received a brusque, no-nonsense reply.

“I am done being responsible for other people and other people’s children. And, I don’t have a problem saying, ‘No.’ So, the answer is no. I am not available to act as a contact on that form.”

End of story. I thanked her for her time and took four steps across the sidewalk that separated our two buildings and our front doors.

“How did it go?” my husband asked.

“I don’t even know what to say except that we need to find someone else to act as an emergency contact on that form,” I replied, still feeling a bit dazed.