Recieved: 1999/12/23 18:36
Subject: [K-list] compassion
On 1999/12/23 18:36, Ckress posted thus to the K-list:
Some time ago I quoted Bradford Keeney: "The meaning of one's spiritual life
is found in the action it breeds. Having dreams of ecstasy does not make one
spiritual. If it fills one with pride and blindness to the needs of others,
it's a curse." I think the same applies to those who have had relatively
pleasant, pain-free and privileged lives, or easy, mostly blissful K
experiences. This is a personal blessing in terms of one's own sense of
wellbeing, but if it makes one cold, judgmental or contemptuous of the
suffering of others, what has it done for one's soul?
Zarko has said that he did not suffer during the war and I understand his
words, yet when reading what he endured, everything in me fell to my knees
and cried out, "My god, what this man has suffered!" And when Andrea spoke
of her comparatively lesser pain of loneliness, who jumps right in to offer
her his heart? Zarko! Someone who knows what it is to be devastatingly hurt
-- and sees themselves in others -- cannot be apathetic or respond with
criticisms when someone else expresses pain...
When I was at the terribly awkward, inanely socially vulnerable age of 12,
made worse for children whose lives have been built on quicksand as mine had
been (through family dysfunction and constant childhood moves -- never in the
same place for more than 2 years), this point was drilled into me. There was
a girl in my class I'll call Karla, who was shunned by the others because of
her lack of social graces and her unkempt appearance (which I much later
realized had been an earmark of poverty). Being the perpetual "new girl"
made me an outsider too; every year I had to knock myself out to prove myself
all over again to a new throng of peers, and just as I would gain some
acceptance, we'd have to move again. So, acutely aware of the emotional toll
of being a misfit, I never joined in the derision of any child being rejected
by a group.
However, perhaps because I was a borderline reject myself early in the school
year, one day after lunch as I passed by her desk, Karla grabbed the hem of
my dress and lifted it up high to reveal my underpants to the class. There
were shrieks of laughter and I was beet red with embarrassment. (This was in
the pre-Madonna, pre-MTV 50's, when sexual modesty was the norm for females
of any age.) About a week later, when probably everyone but me had forgotten
the incident, I saw an opportunity for payback when Karla was standing in the
aisle just beyond my desk. I leaned toward her skirt hem and yanked it up.
Problem was, Karla was wearing a narrow, tight skirt, so that instead of a
brief exposure, her skirt remained bunched around her waist as the class
howled with laughter and hooted obscene remarks. She was so horrified with
humiliation that she just stood frozen... and I felt like crawling under my
desk and dying of shame for placing her in that position. I reached out and
tried to help her pull her skirt back down, but the psychological damage had
already been done.
Fast forward several months. It's recess and I, Karla and a bunch of other
girls are in the washroom. On my way out of the toilet stall, my purse
slipped off my wrist and fell into the toilet. Again, the exaggerated but
genuine-for-that-age mortification hit me. I let out a wail of dismay and
didn't know what to do. As some of the others had noticed my purse plunge,
cries of "What's wrong with her?" were met with "She dropped her purse into
the can" without me saying a word.
Strangely, nobody laughed. Instead, they all reacted pretty much the same
way I felt -- as if I'd suddenly been contaminated by cholera. They
instantly moved far away from me and cleared out of the washroom in a sudden
exodus, leaving me standing there in tears. I thought they had all gone,
until a voice behind me said, "It's not that bad -- I'll help you clean it
up." You guessed it: Karla. And she stayed and helped me rinse and wash and
dry everything in my purse, just as she said she would.
Looking back, the purse-catastrophe itself was absurdly trivial, but I will
always love Karla for helping me, especially considering the skirt episode.
And to everyone who has been so christened by physical/emotional pain that
they don't run away, downplay, or make cutting remarks at the sight of
someone else's misfortune, I am so grateful. You are the heart of the world,
and you are so needed here. Don't be afraid of speaking out against
ignorance-bred callousness. Every time you speak and act from the wisdom of
your own wounds, instead of feeling abandoned in their pain, someone broken
like Karla or me is able to lift up their heads and feel reconnected to life.
Speaking and acting from the wisdom of our wounds doesn't mean we always
behave pleasantly or walk on eggshells so as not to offend anyone. Ram Dass
tells a beautiful story about a man whose service arose from acceptance of
his own suffering as well as his compassion for others:
"I have a friend, a chemotherapy nurse in a children's cancer ward, whose job
it is to pry for any available vein in an often emaciated arm to give
infusions of chemicals that sometimes last as long as twelve hours and which
are often quite discomforting to a child. He is probably the greatest pain
giver the children meet in their stay in the hospital. Because he has worked
so much with his own pain, his heart is very open. He works with his
responsibilities in the hospital as a 'laying on of hands with love and
acceptance.' There is little in him that causes him to withdraw, that
reinforces the painfulness of the experience for the children. He is a warm,
open space which encourages them to trust whatever they feel. And it is he
whom the dying children most often ask for at the time they are dying.
Although he is the main pain-giver, he is also the main love-giver."
(from "How Can I Help?", pp. 86-87)
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