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Compassion

Binders, Compassion, Guest Posts

Evangelist of Joy

December 12, 2016
dog

By Devra Lee Fishman

“Whatever you do, try to keep Mabel off of the furniture at the hospice.  We are struggling with that at home so we need to be consistent everywhere she goes,” my brother says on a rainy, matte gray Friday when he stops by my house to hand off the puppy he is raising for the Guide Dog Foundation.  Mabel bounces toward me all paws and wagging tail, an evangelist of joy wrapped up in fur, spreading her own sunshine on this gloomy morning.

Mabel is a 3-month old Golden Retriever/Labrador mix with a coat the color and feel of corn silk. During the next year or so that she will live with my brother’s family, Mabel will go everywhere they go – supermarkets, restaurants, theatre, sporting events, even airplanes.  Their goal is to make sure that she has good house manners and is comfortable in any social situation before she returns to the Guide Dog Foundation for intensive job-specific training.

I need to reinforce the behaviors that my brother’s family instills in Mabel and I take the responsibility seriously.  I do not want to be the reason she struggles with, or falls behind in, her training, so I thank my brother for the tip and lift Mabel into my car. Continue Reading…

Compassion, Guest Posts

And Then There Were None

December 8, 2016
walking

By Sage Cohen

There is a woman in my neighborhood who walks.

13 years ago, when I was new in my house, my two young, strapping dogs jumped her two young, beautiful dogs as they were passing by and we were getting into the car.

In this shocking and unprecedented moment, something deep down in our tribal animal brains was decided. Our packs were enemies. This woman was angry with me. Very angry. I took her anger and made it an armor over my own heart.

We kept walking. Continue Reading…

Compassion, Guest Posts

Talk Her off the Ledge

August 3, 2016
friend

By Michelle Riddell

You run into a friend. You have a minute, she has a minute so you stop and talk. She’s a good friend, a friend who has listened to you, laughed with you, helped you out in a variety of ways. She has told you the truth when you needed to hear it, and she can keep a secret. But today, she’s on a tear. She has a tendency to overthink things and jump to conclusions. She’s passionate and empathetic to a degree that sometimes clouds her judgement. It’s like something breaks loose in her mind, and her thoughts ricochet all over the place. Just moments into your exchange, her voice gets louder, her tone more shrill. She starts complaining about her husband and kids and then about her life in general. She’s underappreciated and misunderstood; she’s too busy to make plans; she feels left out. You can see it in her eyes: the dark, whirling wildness of someone coming undone. Before you can stop her, she’s gone.

She’s out on the ledge. Continue Reading…

Compassion, Guest Posts

Dogless: Lessons From A Soulful Singapore Mutt

July 17, 2016
energy

By Kira Jane Buxton

“I think we should name him Dogless.” YaYa bounds up to my mother, her singsong staccato bouncing like the notes of a xylophone.

Em tucks a strand from her silky bob, the color of swirling pinot noir, and raises an eyebrow. “Dogless?”

“I think he look like a Dogless.”

“Well, I don’t think he could possibly be Dogless. But perhaps he could be Douglas.” Em has a speaking voice like Julie Andrews, water streaming through the Thames on an English summer day. Her singing voice, alas, is less like Julie Andrews, unless Ms. Andrews is getting run over by a combine harvester.

“Yes. That’s what I said. Dogless.” Yaya, which means auntie in Tagalog, is employed by our family. She has limbs like satay sticks, skin like Singapore soil, and a jack-o-lantern smile. “I don’t think he can bark.” Continue Reading…

Compassion, Guest Posts, Surviving

The Dress That Binds, Or How I Learned To Love My Mother

July 15, 2016
mother

By Jill Rothenberg

I held the delicate piece of lace tulle between my fingers, the light pink froth of it peeking out between the hot pink of the skirt layered on top. I pulled it off the rack and held it out at arm’s length, considering what kind of top would be perfect: plain white bodysuit or the cream-colored sweater with gold bling at the neck? Would the perfectly coordinated pastel pink fur coat be too much?

I took them from the rack and considered them all, holding each over the skirt in my right hand.

“Jesus Christ, I’ve been looking all over the store for you. Put that stuff down and come on.”

I jumped and turned around, the clothes falling to the floor.

There was my boyfriend, who had caught me red-handed in the little girl’s section of Target.

You would have thought he caught me with porn. Continue Reading…

Compassion, Guest Posts, Illness

Angels In Sandwich Shops

June 29, 2016

By Katie Taylor

“I have AIDS,” she whispered, the tears that had dried on her face now mingling with fresh ones as her eyes focused somewhere in between my face and my feet. My arms felt heavy at my sides, and I was uncomfortably aware of the teenage boy behind the sandwich counter watching us.

I reached my arm forward, and she looked up at me. “What’s your name?” I asked.

“Robin,” she said. Before I could say anything else, she grasped my hand tightly in both of hers. “I need money. For my medicine. It’s so hard here. I was in New York, and I thought it would be easier here, but it’s hard here. It’s so hard here. I need the money. I need the money for my medicine, and the shelter’s going to close and – ”

She was talking faster and faster, her voice getting louder with every word, and I didn’t want the restaurant’s manager coming out again. I squeezed her hand, and she stopped talking.

I told her I’d give her what was left from buying our sandwiches. It was all the cash I had in my bag, I told her.

* * *

I’d passed her on my way to a 12-step meeting. That November, in the middle of an imploding marriage and deep in the battle with an eating disorder, I spent several nights a week in community centers and the basements of churches. In simple rooms with a circle of chairs and a rack of pamphlets about how to stop – stop drinking or drugging or eating or sexing or not eating or whatever it was that you couldn’t quit doing. Continue Reading…

Compassion, Guest Posts

The Audacity of Hopelessness

December 5, 2015

By Leta A. Seletzky

I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Ebola. When I mentioned this to my mom, she laughed. I laughed, too. It’s a dramatic statement, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

Ensconced in my vacation home near Lake Tahoe in summer 2014, I followed the news reports about a Liberian man who arrived by air at Lagos, Nigeria’s Murtala Muhammed International Airport and collapsed. He was surrounded by people, some of whom tried to render aid. Shortly thereafter, the man died of the Ebola virus, but not before infecting other people in Lagos—he was Nigeria’s index case. The virus, which had previously gained a foothold in other parts of West Africa, went on to claim over 7,000 lives in the region by the year’s end. My children and I were Lagos residents, but we were fortunate to be “stranded” in our vacation home during the crisis.

***

Have you ever watched a calamity unfold with such grim assurance of the worst possible outcome that you drew perilously close to siding against hope? It’s not the same thing as explicitly wishing for the worst to happen. Rather, it’s believing that to have hope is foolish—and maybe even counterproductive.

Last summer, I was beginning to feel that hope in Nigeria was counterproductive. I had moved to Lagos, the country’s economic capitol, in April 2013 with my husband and our two young sons. My husband was working for an oil company. I was raising our boys, playing tennis, and planning vacations as my framed law degree sat in a cardboard box in our townhome’s attic. We had a driver, a gardener, a stewardess (the local term for a nanny or housekeeper; in our case, she was both), and a steward (the male version of a stewardess; in our case, he came to our house twice a week to chop vegetables).

I had arrived in the country with great hopes for a meaningful and joyous experience. Having spent the previous two years in southwestern Kazakhstan, with its somber apartment blocs and merciless winters, lush Nigeria looked like paradise for the first couple of months of living there. Strangers on the street in Nigeria actually smiled and spoke to me instead of shooting me a surly stare. The standard greeting is a hearty “You are welcome!” Fat ripe fruits hung from the branches of trees I couldn’t identify alongside teeming urban streets. The first time I saw a Traveler’s Palm, I imagined Adam and Eve walking amidst its luxuriant, fan-like fronds. Continue Reading…

cancer, Compassion, courage, Guest Posts, Surviving

Sailing the Waves of Cancer: Living with a Disease That Won’t Let Go

December 4, 2015

By Betsy Hnath

It’s been four years since my diagnosis with stage II breast cancer: One and a half of them I spent in treatment, the other two and a half I spent dealing with the aftermath.

As time passes, and my emotional ship sails in relative equilibrium for longer stretches, I try to spend more time on the deck, taking in my surroundings, living in the moment. Then cancer sends up a flare in the distance and my attention is shifted: A random pain, tightness in my chest, or some extra fatigue. These bright, red burning lights remind me it is always there, hovering, perhaps waiting to attack again.

Sometimes cancer is a cannon, launching its missile close enough to graze my bow, as it has recently. When I hear that close friends, young friends, healthy friends have been diagnosed, I begin to sway. I know they will soon begin building their own ship and join the growing fleet that surrounds me of loving, faithful, undeserving patients. I mourn for their loss of the “old normal.” I know what it does to you.

I have to sit back and powerlessly watch during the excruciating 2-3 weeks it takes to learn everything they can about their enemy through scans and tests, and formulate their plan of attack. Nothing can be done to slow down or speed up that time.

I can tell them what I know from experience: that this is the worst of it, this first part. Shifting uncomfortably in scratchy, paper gowns as you wait in sterile, silent exam rooms; the inability to get the smell of hand sanitizer out of your nose; shaking hands with one doctor after another as he or she flips through your life, which has been neatly assembled onto a clipboard. How you can go from feeling normal to completely despondent, sometimes within the same ten-minute span. That ache, burning in your chest, as you inhale yesterday’s Suave when you bend down and kiss your children’s heads as they sleep, wondering how many more nights you’ll get to do it. I can prepare them and reassure them, but in the end they will sail through it on their own just as we all do. Continue Reading…

Compassion, courage, Fear, Gratitude, Guest Posts

Keep Calm and Carry On Being American: But Do We Remember How?

November 30, 2015

By Aine Greaney

One summer night in 1987, an American man I knew took me to one of those big-venue country music concerts.   It was just six months after I had immigrated here from Ireland, and the gig was somewhere south of Albany, New York.

Since my wintertime landing at JFK Airport, I had seen and enjoyed a small slice of snow-bound USA, but that trip to the country music concert was to be my first safari into big, full-blown Americana.

I may be fusing memory with nostalgia here, but that night, I remember feasting on those sights and traits that, back then, I tagged as “American.”  Though we were miles away from cowboy-country, many of my fellow concert-goers were in full regalia–lots of John Wayne Stetsons and red `kerchiefs and fringed jackets and pointy cowboy boots.

***

Then there was that all-American smileyness—a party sense of shared bonhommie.  Also, before and after concert night, it was a very safe bet that, had I been hungry or thirsty or suddenly fainted, at least 80% of those folks would have turned good Samaritan and come to my aide.

That warm New York night, I would never have guessed that, 28 years later, I would find myself at another summertime concert at another outdoor pavilion–this time with my American husband and on Boston’s waterfront.

Of course, 28 years have brought lots of personal changes and life lessons. The first and best expatriate lesson:  The minute you think you’ve pegged America–this huge, polyglot country where many people’s grandparents were born in another country–you are already wrong.  It’s hard to say what makes Americans American.

However, last month in Boston, I would need to have been drunk or distracted not to have noticed that America has, to quote from W.B. Yeats, “changed utterly.”  For starters, we have all grown cautious.  We have learned to keep our mouths shut. We have learned new and sinister meanings for heretofore ordinary sights and phrases. Continue Reading…

Compassion, Gratitude, Guest Posts, Kindness

To Honor Abundance

November 26, 2015

By Stacey Parshall Jensen

Sunday morning at breakfast I told my visiting in-laws that Peter and I did something we’ve never done before because we have so much. And I started to cry.

Blessings have poured upon us in the last few years. When we both graduated from school in 2010, from graduate writing programs, Peter at CalArts and me from USC School of Cinematic Arts, we embarked on new careers in the film and television industry with nothing but dreams and a shaky determination.  Our daughter had just graduated from high school and was on her way to San Francisco Arts Institute in San Francisco and we were in our tiny home in Los Angeles trying to keep moving.  Like so many artists we pieced it all together to meet our tiny budget. We had nothing but gratitude for the support from family to stay here. An investment, they said. They were making an investment in our lives, in our dreams because they believed in us.

And to be honest, some days, many days, it was their belief that made me keep going.They could see our potential when I wasn’t able.

Fast forward some years, to now and there we were Saturday night, surrounded by friends and brilliant filmmakers screening Blessed, a 27 minute short action film I wrote about motherhood, miscarriage and fighting for family.  And executive produced by Through The Wilderness, our production company. Our team of creatives have worked tirelessly for months to make this film a beautiful, suspenseful drama that has left me in tears.  I stood in front of the audience feeling so much love and excitement, I still get rushes and waves remembering the evening. We stood, heads down, humbled by the words of appreciation and love from our cast and crew.  We glowed. We ate. We hugged. We laughed. We danced.  It was a beautiful touchstone in our careers. It was magic.  Something magical was happening.

At the end of the evening, as the DJ shut down and the last few guests gave their final hugs to leave, we loaded them up with extra cupcakes and plates of food because we had so much. What to do with all of it? We didn’t know for sure but we couldn’t leave it. We couldn’t throw it away.  So the idea came to my husband while talking with a brilliant writer/director of one of our projects about Spirit. And how much Spirit was with us while filming at Manzanar two weeks ago. And how much Spirit was there with us that evening.  I still envision The Great Spirit and all my grandmothers in my spiritual Council of Women, dancing with me at the end of the night. Wow.

So we did what was right when you’re blessed with so much. You give thanks and then you give it away. Continue Reading…

Compassion, death, Grief, Guest Posts

Out of Death, Something

November 22, 2015

By Mark Liebenow

In late April we gather our dead and cry. For some it has been a year since our lives were ripped apart, for others barely a month. Emotions are on edge.

We are the families of those who died and donated their organs, and we have gathered at Chabot College in Northern California to honor our loved ones. My mother-in-law Marjorie has come with me. She is doing better after burying Evelyn, her youngest child and my wife, and is back to running the office of her retirement community.

I think of Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away. He went to college here at Chabot, and there is a life-sized cutout of him in the lobby. He plays a man who struggles to survive physically and emotionally after his plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean. In one scene, before learning how to make a fire, he eats a raw, gelatinous fish. The look in his eyes as he chews is of a person wondering what’s the point when it’s unlikely he will ever be rescued. I know that look. When he gets back home years later, his wife has remarried, so he begins a new life with what he has left. I sense he will be happy, and wish that life was like it is in the movies.

Reg Green is the main speaker and talks about the desperate need for organ donations. The wife of my friend John was one of those who died waiting. In 1994, robbers killed Green’s seven-year-old son, Nicholas, when the family was vacationing in Italy. He and his wife donated their son’s organs to seven Italians. Because of their selfless act, the organ transplant movement finally took hold in that country. Donations doubled and thousands of people are alive because of them. A movie was made about it, Nicholas’ Gift, which starred Alan Bates and Jamie Lee Curtis. “Each year in the U.S.,” Green says, illustrating how often even the very young die, “five thousand families donate the organs of a child.”

After his speech, the smiling face of each donor in a time of happiness fills the large theater screen, and a hush settles over us. Music fills the auditorium as image after image bring back the childhood joy of Danielle, age fifteen, red bandana on her head; Dexter, two years old; forty-eight-year-old Bill with a Fu Manchu moustache; Maribel, a young mother dead at twenty-six; three-year-old Eddrick in his new sweater; nine-month-old Alexandre in knitted cap; and the photos and names of one hundred and forty others, including Evelyn’s, her face shining with hope.

Ev died in her forties of an unknown heart problem, and I think of the dreams we had for our future that now lie in ruins. In the memorial booklet I read the words I wrote that begin: “Evelyn’s soul was sweet like dawn in the Sierra Nevada. She was intoxicating like alpine air. The light in her eyes illuminated the dark paths through the forest of my heart….” Continue Reading…

Birthday, Compassion, Guest Posts, Holidays, love

Happy Birthday, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

November 11, 2015

By Jane O’Shields-Hayner

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Mother Night

Happy Birthday, Kurt.

This is the second letter I have written to you, and it comes twenty-six years past the first. Thank you so very much for writing me back, that long time ago, and thank you for the self-portrait. It’s a treasure.

You would have been ninety-two this November eleventh. The world has missed you for these eight years you have been gone, and so have I.

I was sick when I wrote you in nineteen eighty-nine, and didn’t know how much longer I might remain in this earth orbit, rotating, with you, around our sun.  Expressing thankfulness to the people who had encouraged and inspired me seemed a timely act. You were the first on my list and I didn’t get to number two.

I began reading your books after seeing you on the stage of Landreth Hall at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. It was my birthday in nineteen-eighty-four.  I was an art major earning a teaching degree with an English minor.  You wrote on a blackboard, diagraming the shapes of stories on a graph, and comparing to each other. Tall and lanky, you paced across the stage, pointing at the board with your long fingers protruding from the cuffs of your tweed jacket. You lectured like our English teacher, not the acclaimed Kurt Vonnegut, the “Primal Scream” of the Peacenik” generation. In conclusion, you demonstrated that William Shakespeare was as good at telling stories as any Arapaho. That was my first laugh at your sly, impudent jokes. A sharper wit never graced that stage, nor did a greater humanitarian.

I didn’t die. I learned to live with what would chronically ail me, and I went forward with life, with a growing family and the help of modern chemistry. You and I have this in common: the clear realization of biochemistry’s role in who we are and how we live.

Thank you for updating me on your son, Mark. I knew Mark, back in the days when we were crusading for orthomolecular medicine together and it’s use in treating mental illness as a disease, not an emotional state caused by bad mothers and such. Mark wrote a good memoir about his trip in and out of schizophrenia called The Eden Express. It was also a book about our generation, and personal to me, because much of his story was my story, too.

Mark believed that orthomolecular medicine saved his life, and I believed it saved my first husband’s life as well. We spoke in schools, prisons, even before state legislatures, asking that they take orthomolecular treatment to their populations. In the end, we all found it less of a Eureka phenomenon than we had once believed, but many people were greatly helped, and it got the psychiatric medical community’s attention, which led to major advances in understanding and treating mental illness. Continue Reading…

Compassion, Guest Posts, Inspiration

Grace Notes

April 20, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Melodye Shore

As I rounded the last corner on my morning walk, I stopped to admire a flowering pink azalea. Dainty pink blossoms fluttered on graceful stems, lifted like ballerinas on the morning breeze. Winter was being nudged back into hibernation, and spring was doing one last dress rehearsal before taking center stage.

But my reverie was cut short.

The air was filled with the unmistakable whine of chainsaws, and the frantic chattering of displaced birds.

I raced toward my house, chased after the disembodied sounds until I found their source.

An army of gardeners surrounded the pepper trees in my neighbor’s yard, right behind my own. They stood sentry along our common fence, weapons raised, until my neighbor called out to them in broken Spanish. Chainsaws bit into bark–a steady, grinding noise–as one after another, amputated trees limbs crashed to the ground at the workmen’s feet.

My heart sank. Planted in the wrong spot, Brazilian pepper trees can be a bit unruly. Without pruning, they grow impossibly tall and unruly. They litter the ground with seedpods, and their gnarled trunks shed bark. They’re not indigenous to our area, and it shows. Even so, I love them. They provide shade during the hottest part of summer, and they offer sanctuary to the countless birds that, moments earlier, had taken to the sky, voicing their displeasure.

Hummingbirds patrolled the wooden fence, wings whirring as they dive-bombed the intruders. Mockingbirds hovered above emptied nests, and house finches fought in vain to protect their hatchlings. Homeless now, a pair of orioles took wing, a blur of sunshine that disappeared when they vanished.

I stared at a bald patch of sky, where leafy branches used to be, and I was overcome by a naked sense of vulnerability.  My heart ached for the birds—their sanctuary was being destroyed! But when the hacked-off branches teetered on the fence, and then collapsed into my yard like fallen corpses, my fingers tightened around my phone.

Now what? I asked myself. My neighbor and I were strangers— the fence, the trees that divided our properties also separated us from one another. I wouldn’t recognize his face, were I to bump into him at our local market, and I didn’t have his phone number.

So I called my sister, who lives 1000 miles away. “He’s killing them,” I sobbed.

“Wha–” The panic in her voice was palpable. But as I related the situation, blubbered on and on about dismembered trees and murderous gardeners, the urgency in her voice dissolved into relieved laughter, followed by sighs of relief.

“What can you do?” she said. “His property, his trees…I’m sorry, but I don’t know what I can do to make you feel better.”

So I called my husband. “You should see this!” I wailed. My eyes were blurred by tears, but I tried valiantly to describe for him the massacre as it continued to unfold.

Awkward silence.

“I wish I could help you,” he eventually said, “but by the time I get home from work, the damage will already be done.”

We ended our conversation, and in that hollow space between knowing and not believing the situation in which I found myself, I heard a still, small voice. It called me out of my panic, whispered the answer I needed to hear.

Share your concerns with the right person, it said. Speak up, while you still can. Continue Reading…

Compassion, death, Guest Posts, Heroes

The Ebola Helpers.

December 2, 2014


beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black

By Molly Krause.

Caring can be costly, even deadly. “Look for the helpers” – a quote attributed to Fred Rogers – often pops up online after another school shooting, another natural disaster or another bombing of innocent victims. “You will always find people who are helping,” the quote continues. Be comforted, rest your fears, there is indeed good in the world Mr. Rogers’ message whispers to us. And it works – we do feel better, we can let ourselves exhale, and we may actually feel inspired to be more of a helper.

My brother in law often shares bits of information with me via my Facebook page. Severe weather headed to northeast Kansas! Farmer’s Almanac reveals frigid winter! Terminal B at Kansas City International Airport evacuated due to bomb threat!

It was among posts such as these that he began inserting links such as ‘Deadly Ebola Outbreak is Spiraling Out of Control’. Like the previous posts I was used to merely scanning, I told myself that I didn’t really want to know. But then I starting hearing reports on NPR and thought I should pay attention. I listened to an interview from behind the wheel of my station wagon – Healthcare workers are hit disproportionately hard by Ebola infection. In Africa, this often means the women who are left to care for the ill. These women helpers, they are dying at an alarming rate. I am left with my sweating palms in my Volvo.

In 1996, when I was twenty-five, I cared for my dad as he was dying from HIV/AIDS. He was too ill for the antiretrovirals that have spared many (but not nearly enough) lives since. Continue Reading…