(Another in the stories and generosity series…by Laurel Amabile)
Compassion is the most wonderful and precious thing. When we talk about compassion, it is encouraging to note that basic human nature is, I believe, compassionate and gentle. Sometimes I argue with friends who believe that human nature is more negative and aggressive. I argue that if you study the structure of the human body you will see that it is akin to those species of mammals whose way of life is more gentle or peaceful. Sometimes I half joke that our hands are arranged in such a manner that they are good for hugging, rather than hitting. If our hands were mainly meant for hitting, then these beautiful fingers would not be necessary….Just as you see that with the palm of our hand all five fingers become useful, if these fingers were not connected to the palm they would be useless. ~The Dalai Lama
Our hands are a unique quality of human beings, for no two are exactly alike. Take a moment and look at your own hands. Now look at your neighbors. Note their size, their shape, color, and markings. Think of all the wonderful things our hands and fingers can do for us. Our hands follow our thoughts and act on our intentions. They fulfill our needs and express our ideas. Our challenge is to connect our hands not only to our heads and our thoughts, but also to our hearts, where compassion and love reside.
I invite you now to reflect on the hands of those people in your life who have nurtured you, taught you, offered you help, or given you a gift. Experience the feelings associated with the memories of those special hands that have touched and blessed your life.
As infants it takes us a while to realize that our hands are part of us, not just the curious things that move about in front of us or stick into our mouths. We learn that our hands have the ability to operate in response to our thoughts. We learn of their amazing capacity to do things: to hold onto things, to help us stand up, play with toys, feed ourselves, or stroke an animal’s fur. We learn that our hands can help us express our feelings non-verbally: to show affection, anger, and anxiety. We delight in expressing ourselves creatively with our hands: to swirl and squiggle finger paint, to draw a picture, or to write a story.
Ask a child a piece of paper and a pen or marker and invite them to draw a picture. When the child is done drawing, ask him or her to tell you about their creation. Most children are eager to explain what they have created and more than happy to give their drawing to someone who admires it. It seems so easy for children to be generous in that way, to find joy in giving what they have to give.
One special gift I received about ten years ago was from Julian, a boy who was in my daughter’s fourth grade class at the elementary school. Julian was barely making it in school. He had significant behavioral and learning issues. I was a volunteer tutor in the schools and spent a good amount of time with Julian during and after school, helping him with his reading and math. Truthfully, I didn’t know how much of a difference I could make in Julian’s life, his challenges were so great.
At the time I met Julian, he was living with his Grandma Sally. Julian’s mother was dealing with chronic addiction issues and not an active part of his life. His father was unable to work due to serious health issues. Not long after I met Julian, his Grandma Sally was diagnosed with cancer and did not live long.
Julian and his brothers went to live with their dad in one of the city’s subsidized housing complexes. Drug dealing was a way of life and happening just outside their front door. There was a loose and undependable network of support for Julian and his family, at best.
One year, coming up on Mother’s Day, Julian’s art class was given the materials to make a special pin for their mothers: aluminum foil wrapped around the cardboard letters M-O-M, made to look like silver, with a jewelry pin glued on the back. With a big smile on his face and no words of explanation, Julian gave me the MOM pin he had made. I cried. I cried for the child who was expected to perform a task not in keeping with the harsh reality of his life without a mother. I cried for loss I knew Julian felt, but that I could never fix or begin to fill. I cried for this fragile child’s courageous act of generosity and affection.
Over time we come to understand that our hands and the hands of others have many powers: to help and to hinder, to protect and to harm, to heal and to hurt, to construct and destroy, welcome and to push away. This growing awareness forces us to choose how our hands will act and react on our behalf.
Now more than ever, it is essential that we remain hopeful, to express the compassion we feel for others through our attitudes and actions, and to open our hands to give in service and share our abundance. We cannot allow ourselves to be immobilized by circumstances beyond our control, but to act from that place of love, courage, generosity, and commitment that resides deep within our souls.
May it be so.
Resources for Teaching and Practicing Compassion and Generosity:
Armstrong, Karen. 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life. 2010.
The Charter for Compassion: http://charterforcompassion.org/the-charter
Passing on the Values to the Next Generation: http://www.genspring.com/documents/Passing-on-Values-to-the-Next-Generation-Ellen-Perry-GenSpring.pdf
With Justice and Compassion: http://www.uua.org/immigration/re/192346.shtml
UU Peacemakers: http://www.uupeacemakers.org/
Inspiration for the Journey:
Rev. Naomi King http://thewonderment.typepad.com/the_wonderment/
Rev. Roger Jones http://ironicschmoozer.wordpress.com/
Barry Sanders http://gatheredbythefire.org/
Paul Mark Sutherland http://gyatoday.wordpress.com/
Compassion–The Buddha (PBS): http://www.pbs.org/thebuddha/compassion/
Supports for Caregivers and Community-builders:
Helene J. Powers: http://helenepowers.com/writing.html