I discovered a review I made of compassion years ago, and it speaks to me loudly in this time, so I share it here. An interesting exercise to try, asking yourself, when are you compassionate? When is it difficult to be compassionate?
I am typically compassionate when:
I find it difficult to be compassionate when:
Compassion is most needed for self whenever I block myself from extending compassion to others out of fear. Awareness of my wounds without picking at that woundedness like a scab, alongside awareness of how every human on the planet is wounded allows me to hold great compassion for both myself and others. Everyone wants to feel safe and comfortable in their own skin. People may have dysfunctional ways of going about getting that feeling of safety and comfort.
I have witnessed countless people practicing compassion in action, and I am grateful for their models. (Knitting in action). I am passionate about both distance walking and knitting as secular spiritual practices where I find personal peace and methods to show compassion for others. I have raised thousands of dollars for people through walking prayer.
In this moment of June 2020, everything I can say or do feels inadequate to rethink my place inside a racist structural system, the pain so vast. So I am now listening to strong voices of those expressing generational trauma and oppression. America has its own unique form of racism that began before the country found its identity. Wall Street is literally built on mass graves. Hitler even took his "bible" from America's breed of self-proclaimed superiority (Madison Grant). We then took on an anti-racist identity in fighting in WWII. And yet, we did not look in the mirror until enough is enough and the world slowed by pandemic allowed us a moment of clarity that feels different than any before.
One tiny bit of action I am taking shamefully so late, is to join in support of the NAACP and other social justice groups. Decades ago I completed my English degree thesis on African-American poetry, specifically Gwendolyn Brooks' writings signed off on by a teacher who was a close friend of Ralph Ellison. I lived among a diverse group of POC after college who accepted me warmly as their awkward, white friend. I know exactly where I was when Nelson Mandela was freed and South Africa's truth and reconciliation trials began. I became a literacy center tutor for five years following the poem I wrote below at age 20, a few years before Portland systematically drained black neighborhoods and became one of the whitest cities in the entire US. (I do not mean to suggest illiteracy is linked with race, historical access to education system is though).
What I ask myself in this moment is, where have I been since then? Yes, I've been single parenting, working 60+ hrs/week for years, but in my work and education I also had privilege to have access to information some others didn't outside my social bubble. And yet I did not feel empowered, no, take the time to act on that information. It feels like I've been hugely distracted and disassociated from the experience of others based on my choices and geographic buffers, i.e., white neighborhoods. In this moment, the light is shone brightly on the truth that I live in a different reality, yes, the same country, but a different reality than black folks, as no matter how high up the corporate ladder, when out on the street living lives, it's a different reality from me. And yet, our fates are deeply connected. This James Baldwin clip from 1968 is just stunning when heard in light of today, more than five decades later.
I do know what it's like to be low income all my adult life, but I don't know what it means to not have family able to support me when the going gets unbearable (privilege), don't know what it is to live judged as a POC/BIPOC, and even though I learned much historical context, I am ashamed it has taken me this long to see what is true and how much work I need to do.
Two Top Buttons Fell
Portland's public reading room is shelter from
Oregon's cold winter days;
downtown where you are
always trying to get up.
My high-back, hardwood chair
brings me to the edge of Medgar Evers' life story,
marching on Selma's streets with N double ACP.
Seeing people overcome the hound dogs' bark,
reading words of freedom-love, life-love, blood-love.
Your tired scarf and maroon wool hat
frame your pride-lined face.
Across the broad yellow table,
your brown Salvation coat gapes at me
where two top buttons fell.
Veins in your thumb strain as you move a page.
Your eyes look only down over Time magazine glare.
Glossy red runs there between dark skin
and South African dirt.
I want to teach you to see the words
on that shelf behind your back.
Bright lights in this room
remind us to belong out of the cold;
only closing time pushes you back
to the frosted bench to wait.
Every day you understand
how to sit near the words
and meditate on full color.
No story can explain
how you know that blood speaks.
Staying close to the wealth of nature and making with my hands bring me greatest joy and comfort. You can find me on Instagram as @waterwomanknits, and on Ravelry as Waterwoman-Knits.