An Eavesdropper’s Guide to Compassion

Acquire more compassion. That is one of my top personal goals: to appreciate what another person is going through without the weight of pity or guilt. Or discomfort. Or disdain. I’d like to think I’m making progress but mostly I’m just aware of all the other reactions that sully the compassion. I want compassion unencumbered by other emotions. But perhaps single, pure reactions are not the way humans respond.

The other morning outside Starbuck’s, a youngish man was talking to himself. There is something distinctive about self-talk, you hear it and you know he’s not talking to a person or into a device. He walked rapidly without purpose, ricocheting from spot to spot. He had shoes cradled in his arms, but only socks on his feet. When he entered Starbucks, most everybody acted like he wasn’t there, but stiffened and you knew they knew. Fresh back from a week in Manhattan, I was skilled at ignoring him. He stood behind me in line for a while, muttering and rapping. He came up with some spectacular rhymes, and sounded surprised when his words fell into place. He was impossibly high, on what I dunno. I couldn’t tell whether he was having a good trip.

After he left, a woman in line had a mom moment and expressed concern about his heading toward traffic. I looked out at him and for the first time saw somebody’s son. Suddenly I felt like a crumb for not reaching out to him, maybe getting him to sit down for a spell. Without provocation, he sprinted up the street and away. The woman kept talking about him to all the workers and now it seemed like there was gossip in her caring, which disappointed me. The workers told her that cops had earlier been out to chat with him. I had happened into one short piece of a recurring cycle.

The other night on the subway I sat next to a pair who must have been friends, maybe mid-20s in age. The guy said to the gal, “Have you seen Brian lately? I really don’t like him anymore, he has turned into such a loser. All he wants to do is sit around at home.” (GIrl murmurs unconvinced noises.) “Shelly saw him in New York. He flew out there for an interview with a director about a big part.” (Tone of voice conveys jealousy and frustration – apparently Brian blew the opportunity.) “Shelly thought the same thing. He’s acting like a loser. You know his dad tried to kill himself last year.” (Not clear whether this is offered as an attempt to understand, or further proof of what a loser Brian is.)

By now I hate this guy and wish Brian had better friends. Later I bring myself around to thinking about the life experiences that shaped this guy and prevent him from perceiving that Brian’s behavior could reflect emotional devastation. I remember my 20s as a time of cavalier disregard for so many others. Maybe he’ll grow out of it. I’m pretty sure that I finally have, although disdain still comes way too easily to me.

What’s Black and White and All Gray Area?

When it comes to lasting life lessons, the most important class I ever took was a journalism class back in high school. The teacher, Mr. Kim, divided the class into four groups and each group monitored the (then-current*) Vietnam War by reading a single news magazine: Newsweek, Time, Christian Science Monitor and I forget the fourth. After a few months, each group reported on the war from our magazine’s perspective —- and it was as though there were four different wars going on. The differences were not subtle. A battle lost according to one magazine was won according to another! That experience carved deep and healthy skepticism toward the news.

Below is today’s example of the same lesson, currently pinging around Facebook (I shared from a friend who shared a Twitter snapshot that originated on the timeline of George Takei).

BTW and P.S. THANK YOU MR. KIM!

It's all in the adjectives.

It’s all in the adjectives.

* yes, that’s how exceedingly old I am.

Home Is Where The Thoughts Stay

What I see this morning as I write this.

What I see this morning as I write this.

I love meeting new places, and so I am excited to be heading out for a week of work-related travel; however, there’s a part of me that never wants to leave home, and thus I must always shove myself out the door.

There is nothing special about my house. It’s a tiny, nondescript box. I’m always behind with my housework and yard work and I no longer pretend that I intend to catch up. It would be charitable to call the furniture antiques. At one time I had lots of Nice Stuff but multiple moves, kids, pets, and my waning interest in Stuff have all taken a toll.

But of course, that’s not what matters.

Home is where my kids grew up (when we stopped moving around), and where they stay when they need a place to. Home is where we marked their growth spurts on the wall, and now have a funny paint job as we paint around but never over those growth marks.

Home is where the cats and the dog reside, usually doing something goofy. This morning, two of the cats did some play-fighting in the backyard, on opposite sides of a tree trunk. They rose up like bears and batted at each other left right left right but mostly hit the tree trunk.

Home is where I sit on a patio and write novels, and blog posts, while listening to the morning birds or the evening freeway traffic, which really can sound like the ocean.

Home is where I get to choose my changes, or have that illusion. Home is where I can dress however I please, except maybe when a kid walks in out of the bright afternoon sun with a friend and I’m still in my jammies. Home is where I ignore the phone’s ring if that’s what I feel like doing.

Home is where I recharge, revive, restore, and become ready to go back out in the world.

The curious thing is that home is so portable. I have had many homes – big, small, fancy, plain – and they all have the same effect. A house is a building, a home is the state of mind.

The Right Spot

Leo loves life and he makes the most of every moment. (Leo, teach me how!) When he wants to get petted, there is no ignoring him.

Pet me, please.

Pet me, please.

Oh yeah. That's the spot.

Oh yeah. That’s the spot.

I'm leaning my whole body into it.

I’m leaning my whole body into it.

And I'm... slipping away. Oops.

I leaned too hard and I’m… slipping away. Oops. Don’t worry, I’ll come right back.

Here is a movie of the same session, with his mega-purr on the soundtrack. (More than one morning, he has awakened somebody in the household with that purr.) No need to watch the whole thing. Any ten second interval will give you the idea.

Years ago, a famous therapist pointed out that humans would be much healthier psychologically if we could ask for affection whenever we needed it – if we could mimic the cat who climbs into a lap as needed. I don’t remember the therapist’s name but I remember that observation whenever one of my cats shows up for a dose of affection.

(The WP Photo Challenge asked to see joy.)

Powers of Observation, or Lack Thereof

With people and behavior, I can be an astute and detailed observer; but when it comes to my surroundings, I can be shockingly oblivious. More than once I have looked around in a familiar place and thought something along the lines of Gee, how long has that light fixture been there? “Familiar place” includes the home where I have lived for 10 years.

You probably think I’m joking.

This morning it thus came as no surprise when I walked out of the train station I always use, and discovered an interesting pattern in the juxtaposition of walkways and a bench. I’m reasonably certain they did not install all of this during the last week. Although come to think of it there was some construction there recently. So maybe for once I didn’t traverse the area 100 times without noticing this:

layers1photolayers2photo

(The WP Weekly Photo Challenge asked to see layers.)

Ten Questions I’ve Never Considered

This Word Press Daily Post was fun to consider. It said On the interview show Inside the Actors’ Studio, host James Lipton asks each of his guests the same ten questions. What are your responses?

What are your own responses? Post them in comments here, or write your own post and comment me the link!

Always good for a laugh.

Always good for a laugh.

What is your favorite word?

Clam. It’s always good for a laugh.

What is your least favorite word?

Teh. Which is how the comes out whenever I type it.

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Live music.

What turns you off?

Fragmentation – demands, deadlines, chores, requirements, expectations pulling me in multiple directions.

What is your favorite curse word?

Hands-down winner: the F word.

What sound or noise do you love?

I love hearing my twins (son and daughter) talking and working together without bickering or oneupsmanship. I typically hear this once or twice a year, when they make me breakfast in bed for mother’s day and/or my birthday.

What sound or noise do you hate?

1970s arena rock. GMWAS.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Professional surfer. Well. I would love to be one. I would not bother to attempt it. I can barely negotiate a boogie board.

What profession would you not like to do?

Waiter. I would be a terrible one and I would find it so stressful to be polite and calm in the face of customer demands.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Your friends, family and critters await you in room 12C.