Imagination

“I can’t imagine,” we say. We hear about shootings and war and about an alligator snatching a toddler in one of the most magical places on earth. These are the things of nightmares. “I can’t imagine what those poor families are going through,” we say.

The thing is though, we can imagine. If you’re like me, you not only imagine, but you do so in great detail. I picture myself standing next to a Disney lake, my face tipped toward the fading Florida sun, my little boy next to me one second, the next, snatched. Underwater. Gone. Disbelief, horror, shock… the things nightmares are made of.  

I can picture myself texting my grown son. Him, hiding in a bathroom while gunshots spill the blood of those he was laughing with moments before. I can imagine screaming when I get no more replies to my “ARE YOU OKAY??” texts… the things nightmares are made of.

What if I told you that imaging is where true compassion begins? That rather than judging and saying “Duh, alligators are everywhere in Florida,” when we imagine, we feel compassion, empathy, and love for fellow humans. When we choose to not place blame, we’re able to imagine the faces of those suffering. We’re able to feel true compassion for them.

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***

A woman I know had a son. While she’ll always have a son, he’s no longer here. He committed suicide as a teenager. People would’ve understood had she taken to bed and never gotten up. Instead, she travels to high schools and tells her son’s story. She talks to teens. She spreads hope and reminds kids that life changes quickly. While today may be awful, next month may be the best they’ve ever had. She does not blame. Rather than being angry that classmates were cruel to her son, she loves them. Tells them that if they ever feel desperate enough to end their lives, that she’s there. That they can call her, no matter what.

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***

It was warm for San Francisco. I walked to the bagel shop across from my hotel, passing several homeless people on my way. While walking, I browsed through the photos on my phone from last night’s meal. I’d ended up paying and was freaking out a little about how much I’d spent on this trip. When I got to the bagel place, there was a man, head bent, dirty, a paper cup of coffee cradled between his hands. I wondered whether he’d be insulted if I bought him a breakfast sandwich. I got to the register and ordered 12 of them. “What type of bagels?” the cashier asked. “Mix them up,” I said. “The best ones, I guess.”

I got my order and walked over to the man holding his coffee. “I hope it’s okay,” I started. He didn’t turn around. He didn’t know I was talking to him. “Sir?”

He jumped a little bit, started to get up. “I’m sorry!” I said. Did he think he needed to leave?
“I’m sorry. Perhaps you’ve eaten already but you remind me of someone and…” I didn’t know what to say. I handed him a breakfast sandwich from my bag. He sat again, didn’t look at me. I felt like a dick and turned away.

“Bless you.” I’m not sure whether he said it or whether it was coming from the bag I held in my hands or from somebody else, but I turned back and put my hand on his arm. I wanted him to know I saw him.

He looked up, smiled, turned, and opened his sandwich. The rest, I passed out along the way back to the hotel thinking about how little it was.

How our meal the night before that included two bottles of wine would have paid for a sleeping bag, socks, and 100 more breakfast sandwiches.

“It’s something,” the empty bag whispered. “You’re right,” I said. “It’s more than I did for him yesterday.” I got back to the hotel and looked in the mirror. “You’re so old,” I thought.

“You’re beautiful,” I said to my reflection.

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***

Just now, as I was finally ready to read what I’ve written and send it to Lisa who kindly asked me to write for #1000Speak this month and then moved my Monday deadline to Wednesday and then to today “or soon,” my son came downstairs with his iPad. His dad had agreed to watch him tonight while I write, and I was annoyed.

He pressed the play button on a YouTube video, and I expected to see Parkour or farts or waterslide videos. Instead, it was the story of Lego.

“17 minutes?” I thought. Too long! I need to write!

I remembered the man at the bagel shop and the time I told mirror-me that she’s beautiful, and I closed my laptop.

His-too-big-for-lap-sitting body sat on my lap. Together, we watched the video from beginning to end. Every now and then, he looked up at me. Checking whether I was paying attention. Each time, I held him tighter. Kissed his neck. Stroked his hair.

The video ended.

“Thank you,” I said. “For what, Mommy?”

“For wanting to share this with me. For coming down.”

“You like Lego,” he said. He kissed my cheek and ran upstairs, saying something about needing to build a robot suit.

***

Feeling compassion can lead to change. It’s people like you and me and each of us who freed slaves, gave women the right to vote, and made it so that people with disabilities aren’t locked away. People like you and me are why my son received the support he needed in preschool to learn to use his voice so that one day, he too will be able to say “that’s not right,” and affect change. We’re why he has the support he needs today. We are why.

We’re heroes, friends. Each of us and all of us. We’re the ones who can choose light rather than blame, and hope for change rather than fear. Our compassion can change the world.

We choose things each day. While walking to buy coffee and breakfast sandwiches, we choose to see or not-so-much see those around us. While we look into mirrors and feel old or beautiful. When we make a choice between nesting in bed or talking to teenagers about suicide. We choose.

I know that buying a homeless person a few extra minutes to sit in a shop while he eats eggs and cheese on a bagel isn’t much.

I also know that it’s a start, and that imagination is always better than blame. Here’s to imagining ourselves to a better world every day and on all of the days.

***

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Kristi Rieger Campbell’s passion is writing and drawing stupid-looking pictures for her blog, Finding Ninee. It began with a memoir about her special-needs son Tucker, abandoned when she read that a publisher would rather shave a cat than read another memoir. 

Kristi writes for a variety of parenting websites including Huffington Post Parents, has been published in several popular anthologies, received 2014 BlogHer’s Voice of the Year People’s Choice Award, and was a proud cast member of the 2014 DC Listen to Your Mother show.

Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

 

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#1000Speak June – A Home Remedy for the World

I’ve been thinking so much about the various news stories splayed across the headlines lately.

It seems no matter where you are across the globe, there is a story about something negative. Gorillas, alligators, mass shootings, politics, health care, animal cruelty, unemployment, gun control… I could go on, but I won’t. You know what the headlines and the horrors are in the world. You know that behind every headline is so much more of the story than we will ever know from reading the news. Maybe those stories are somehow better than what is presented; maybe they are worse. But at the end of the day, no matter the story, the overarching problem I see is that the world is sick.

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I have a vague memory of a cartoon drawing of the earth with a cold – or something – and that’s what comes to mind lately. Our world is sick and it needs some kind of remedy. But what? I see quotes and memes go by on my computer screen all the time suggesting what might help: The world needs love. The world needs faith. The world needs compassion.

It’s all true.

But how do we begin to heal a world that on some days seems so far gone?

As I prepared to write this post over the last few weeks, this question goaded me and made me forget every idea I thought I had to share here. I couldn’t help coming back to this nagging question of what must we DO in order to help our world, help one another?

We need to get back to basics. We need to start with the closest, simplest task and that is to heal our Selves.

My #1000Speak posts tend to focus on self-compassion and I suppose my words here will be no different. If we want to see change on a global level, we have to start on a personal level. As I thought more and more about this, I suddenly remembered some words I encounter very often at a place I visit regularly, but rarely take time to see. The words I’ll share with you here are from Robert Rodale and his wife, Ardath Harter Rodale, two people who dedicated their lives to improving not only their own lives, but the lives of others in various ways. Consider how their words might be applied on a very intimate, individual, and personal level, but also consider how they might be applied on a much larger scale.

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“Health is the ability to find superior powers of body and mind and to use them for full, fruitful, and enjoyable living.”

“Every living thing has an inner urge to get better. To renew. To use the power of life to heal from within.”

~Robert Rodale

 

“May your eyes be filled with the light of sunshine to invigorate every part of your body, mind, and spirit.”

“May health and love flow through your veins to bring you peace and harmony.”

~Ardath Harter Rodale

 

I know, I know. Given the magnitude and frequency of negativity in the headlines lately, how can we think that such simple and wholesome ideas would make a difference?  How is it possible to believe there is such light and hope and power in the world when there is so much evidence to the contrary? Maybe if we can take even just a little bit of that positive thinking, that conviction that all living things have the potential for good, for change, and for health, we might see the world – and the people in it – in a different light. Maybe we can be gentler with ourselves, kinder and more compassionate to one another, more understanding and accepting of ourselves and of one another.

What we need is a good old fashioned home remedy like Grandma’s chicken soup or hot tea with lemon. There may not be much proof of whether or not it will work, but it can’t hurt to hope and it can’t hurt to try. Try compassion. Try kindness. Try love. See if it helps. See if it makes you feel better. It certainly can’t make things any worse.

 

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This month, 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion continues to work toward a better, more compassionate world.

Here’s how to get involved:

Join 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion on Facebook

Visit the 1000Speak blog

Follow @1000Speak on Twitter

Use the #1000Speak hashtag across social media.

This month’s link up is open and ready for your posts and will remain open until June 28th.  To join in the Link-up and read more posts, click the blue button below and follow the instructions.

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