Tag Archives: Compassion

Here, Take My Shoulder. I Have 2

You know that moment (or moments) in your life when you feel you just can’t take any more bad news or bad luck? You’ve hit the wall? You’ve had enough? You’ve reached your bullshit-threshold? You have actually thought of crotch-punching the next person who smiles at you?

Sound familiar? We’ve all been there – I’m pretty sure. People who haven’t must have an extraordinary amount of patience or good luck; perhaps a combination of both. I don’t even know the meaning of those words. I get road rage and have been known to honk furiously if the person in front of me is too busy fluffing her hair to notice the light’s turned green. MOVE YOUR ASS!

In any event, I’ve had many instances in my life when I just wished the world would swallow me up. When I longed to dig a hole and bury myself – which, actually, is impossible – I’d have to ask for help and I’ve no friends willing to bury me.  That’s what this post is about.

“If you could pick one flaw of mine that you think I should fix, what would it be?” I asked that in a handwritten survey I gave to my closest friends in high school. The only response that has stuck with me all these years came from my friend Annie, who replied with, “You’re too quick to temper.” I don’t remember any of the other ones. Not one. Hers I thought was hilarious. I’m pretty sure I disregarded the rest. I didn’t like to be told I had no self-esteem. Oh, yeah? The sky is blue, the grass is green, blah blah blah. But this? Fantastic. I have a temper? Not just a temper but a QUICK temper. What can I say? 1/2 German + 1/2 Italian = 1 Hothead

At that age I had already developed the habit of wanting to fix certain flaws in my make-up but was unable to figure out just what it was that needed fixing or how to go about doing so. I relied on my friends – and such wonderful friends they are. Over the years, I have witnessed death and dying. I came to a point where I dubbed myself The Grim Reaper. And, like all humans, I have experienced crushing heartache. Yet it was my collection of friends who have repeatedly picked me up, held me aloft, and propelled me forward – as I do for them.

Friendships that we cultivate in our lives are crucial to our emotional (and physical) well-being. I have discussed this before.  It’s healthier to reach out, socialize, lean on the shoulders of ones who love you than to bottle it up and cope on your own. Everyone knows this. Yet sometimes it’s easier to crawl into your shell, dig a hole and hide. I know. I’m the crawler/digger/hider type. My friends new and old? They’re the phoning, emailing, texting, show-up-on-your-doorstep-because-you-ignored-their-calls type, and I love them to bits. They are too marvelous for words.

My point is, if you’re going through something, reach out. Your friends are there and want to help. It is our empathy towards others that makes us astounding beings – this empathy we so conveniently use to put ourselves above the animal kingdom, while overlooking examples of compassion from within it. Every being with a normal sense of compassion wants to ease the suffering of those around it. Sometimes you can’t. All you can do is lend them an ear and some strength. Be there until they can get through the moment, break through the bubble of their misery and realize, outside it, there’s a whole world of possibilities. You never know when one gesture of yours would a difference.

Who’s Your Horton?

She couldn’t have known how it would affect me. If she had, I’m convinced she’d have forbidden me to have contact with it. My mother’s German. She’s a strict disciplinarian. Had she known my life would forever be shaped by it, well, there’s no telling what would have happened to my Horton Hears a Who book. I’m thinking it would have conveniently disappeared one day when I set off to school, much like all our family pets. “That’s strange, when I left this morning, Mom, we had a tank full of fish.”  “Mom, where’s the cat?”  “What do you mean you grew bored with the birds?”  “Mom, we only had that dog for fourteen hours!”

Oh, yes, I’m certain Horton Hears a Who wouldn’t have stood a chance.

My typical grade school morning sounded like this, “You missed the bus AGAIN?” she would say. Her accent is only noticeable to us when she’s angry. Shit. She was angry. She sounded more like, “You meeezed zeh bus AGAIN?”  “Yeah,” I would say, pretending I didn’t know she was using the voice which made my older sisters call her “Eva Braun.” Missing the bus wasn’t intentional on my part. I knew she was trying to get ready for work. She was a single parent. She most certainly didn’t have time every blessed day to take me to school. “Well you left here in good time. What were you doing?” Why did this last question always need to be asked? It’s true, I set out in good time to make the school bus. But there were so many little rolly-pollies on their backs, and snails in the middle of the walkway, they all needed rescuing. I couldn’t leave them there. Someone might step on them. I’d come home in the afternoon and find the carnage. Oh, no, it couldn’t be borne!

I’m vegetarian. I’ve been one since I was 18. I dare not have been one sooner. She’s German, I said that right? They’re a people really into their meats. The lectures I would have been given. I shudder to think. It’s bad enough now, “Denise, you look disgusting! You’re so thin!”  “Disgusting? Ah, thanks. I’m not thin, I’ve got back fat which would counter your argument.” (It is usually around this time I’m tempted to whip off my shirt, even if we’re in a public place, and show her said back fat.)  “Don’t you eat REAL FOOD?” (This is said in such a repulsed tone, as if tofu is the work of the devil, and plainly all my troubles would be solved with a nice slice of liverwurst on pumpernickel). “Yes, Mom. I eat. Says my muffin tops.”

Flashback to Horton: I don’t kill anything, no matter how small, hence my ant escort service listed in my previous blog posts. There must be some reason that ant’s alive. Far be it for me to harm him. In fact, not only do I not kill anything, I rescue everything that needs rescuing – always have. Even if it made me late for the bus.

Don’t get me wrong. There were days I took the bus, just many when I didn’t. I still remember Zane, one of the older neighborhood boys, picking up snails and hurling them at the wall at the bus stop. My jaw dropped. I went around trying to gather them all up before he could begin the next major league windup, but it didn’t make a difference. He wouldn’t stop. He was “bored.” That day I didn’t MISS the bus, I ran home, sobbing at his cruelty. That was 5th grade. I still remember the sound they made on impact. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Zane grew up to be a serial killer.

My softhearted nature has been passed down to my children, I’m happy to say. Though they’re not vegetarian, they have respect for life. They’ve both gotten into scraps at school protecting  bugs or mice. When I’d be called in to discuss it with the principal or teacher, I would tell them how proud I was. “And, by the way, glue traps are inhumane!” Go me.

It was at some point when I was nineteen that I realized everybody needs a Horton. That while I was looking out for the best interests of the living beings within my sphere (“Mother Nature” as my husband calls me), someone bigger should be looking out for mine. That I was just this little speck alone in the world, in need of someone to pick me up and dust me off on those days when life seems such a burden. All these years later, I’d still like to have a Horton. I thought I had a Horton once, but that was just silly, it was more like a “blankie.” There’s no Horton. And there’s no knight in shining armor. And I realized I’m nothing more than an individual speck floating around amidst a sea of other specks. Life isn’t about being rescued by someone else, but by coping with things on your own, but while I’m coping, I save those that need saving. That’s just how I roll.

No, Really, They’re Still There

The number of ants inexorably marching across the ledge in my son’s bedroom has lessened. The ones that remain seem confused and/or bored. The way they stop, mid-stride, look around, and go back the way they came without having accomplished anything reminds me of the movements my husband makes when I send him to the store with a grocery list consisting of feminine hygiene products. It also reminds me of my advancing years. I will stand, purposely set off down the hall at a fairly fast clip (clearly what I’m going to do is so important, even the dog moves aside) but by the time I get to the end of the corridor, I’ve forgotten what I was going there for. No, no, it wasn’t important after all. I obviously just meant to get in some crucial hallway exercise. Burn a calorie. Yes, that’s it.

That’s my “A ha!” moment. So I’ll go back from whence I came, plop back down, and immediately meet a reminder. Oh. I was going to get my wallet…

Do these ants have that A ha! moment? Is that why they’ve spun back around? Or were they really so bored they couldn’t plod on in that direction one more millimeter? That reminds me of a job I once had. Day in and day out, watching the clock, counting the minutes until I could bolt from my seat. Wave goodbye to the crazy train for one more day. Go home and seek comfort from the dust motes floating through the air, the heavy layer of dust covering the furniture. Do you know if you allow it to settle that thickly you can let your children doodle in it? Aww, precious doodles. You’re welcome.

I used to have a friend who would come over and grimace at the toys covering the floor. The complete chaos my house was in. I remember feeling so inadequate! Why couldn’t I work full-time, be a mom, and also have a spotless house like she did? Looking back, I’m sad to think of the hours I toiled, cleaning, scrubbing, disinfecting – all the while, my kids were growing up, not caring whether our living room looked like a page from Architectural Digest or a Red Cross Hurricane Relief ad. When my friend passed in 2005, I had a major A ha! moment. My house hasn’t been spotless since. I wouldn’t waste countless hours of my life scrubbing away the last vestiges of my offspring’s childhoods.

Toys are not in abundance anymore. They’ve grown, but their stuff still litters corners of the living room. Dirty socks. Half empty glasses of chocolate milk that may or may not have been licked by the dog. Candy wrappers. I once found an apple core between the sofa cushions. I don’t care. As long as it isn’t smack dab in the middle of the corridor, interfering with my memory loss hallway exercise, they’re welcome to the space. That’s one less spot I’ll have to clean.