COMPASSION: TO BE OR NOT TO BE

"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." ~ Dalai Lama

A respected writer friend and travel lover invited me along on a wonderful vacation to the casual, picturesque province of beautiful Nova Scotia. I was to join her and another traveller for our maritime adventure. The three of us met up at an airport hotel the night before our early morning flight. It became immediately clear the relationship with this new personality would be complicated the minute she handed me the vodka Pepsi that I had thrice refused.

Neglecting to read the fine print on our pre-boarding passes, they missed the baggage check-in by a mere thirty seconds. You can tell a lot about a person by how they handle a stressful situation. My new travel companion reacted with vulgarity, red-faced yelling and by throwing the extra fees at the representatives face. I was embarrassed for her and myself.  I travel light so the attendant advised me to run for my flight. Believe me when I say I could not run away fast enough.  My escape was short-lived as the airline changed the gate and I too missed the flight. It was less than a two-hour wait so I checked in and took my time getting to the lounge where I relaxed and began to read.

I was engrossed in my novel when the loud, gravelly laugh of my gnarly nemesis broke my concentration a half an hour later. The less than impressive start to the day was made duller still by her recants of the story and how in her indignation and retribution she happily left a smashed up muffin on the CSR’s counter.

Rudeness offends me as does excessive use of profanity and drink, smokers and drug users. I was lucky enough to find all five abusive behaviours in this travel companion. This was going to be one hell of an adventure and let me tell you folks, the hits just kept on coming.

My writer friend is a wonderful woman and were it not for her pleasant personality, I would never have travelled with companions at all, preferring to travel alone making new friends and acquaintances along the way. The two personalities seemed such a contrast to me but it’s true that you never really know someone. All efforts to converse with my friend were met with interruptions and comments indicating petty jealousy and one-upmanship. The snide remarks delivered as feeble humour or out of earshot from my friend. I don’t understand jealousy myself and think it a merit-less emotion but I know it creates enough power to inflict pain on others. I found myself in an extremely uncomfortable situation and while much venom was subtly directed towards me I choose a path of compassion instead of anger. I laughed when I wanted to lash out. I held my tongue when she repeatedly gave wrong directions or misinformation. When she spoke incessantly as an official on every topic, I sat quietly, mused or when I could, I walked away alone.

Was it easy? Not as much as I would have liked although some days were easier than others. In the end I did spend good money to leave a day earlier. There are limits to my compassion and as mentioned earlier, I despise rudeness. I felt one more day could push me into a wrath or unkindness for which I would later question myself.

Searching for some reason for this hardship, nothing seemed reasonable and I had to look inside myself for lightness of being. It was closer than I thought. She forced me to recall that humans come in a variety of packages, imperfect packages. It is in fact our imperfections that make us human, deserving of love, despite our faults. We don’t have to like each other but it’s important to try to love each other. When I hugged my companion goodbye at the airport it was with a full heart and genuine warmth that I wished her well.

  • TRAVEL TIP #1:  Get to know the people you plan to travel with and ensure compatibility. The adventure should be found on the journey, not in your travel companions. 

AN AGING PARENT

Recently I have found myself in a position I thought about but never really conceived I would find myself in, taking care of an aging parent. Now to anyone who has experienced this, you know it can be a special kind of hell. It’s not close to the torment that comes from watching a sick parent worsen or suffering through the terminal illness and loss of a child or loved one but it carries with it a strong measure of weight upon ones soul and shoulders.

It is hard to see someone you love deteriorate. It’s hard because it’s painful. The pain comes from witnessing that person become something you know they fear and despise. It’s hard because you are helpless to change the situation for them.

I have realized the only thing of any value or worth, is love and compassion. The love is always there, often strengthening but the compassion can be hard to find as I struggle with my own sense of loss and guilt at being unable to find a solution and of course, my own mortality.  The love you hold for that person can at times feel like a curse and you then curse yourself for feeling this way. Death comes to us all but to watch it is an agonizing test of endurance, a test of one’s capacity to love without anger for circumstances beyond ones control.

Being one who is lucky enough to be blessed with the gene that makes me see the glass as half full, I have stumbled upon a smidgen of goodness in watching the slow decline of a person who owns a piece of my soul.  What I have found is the memory of a life and it richness, its dark moments, its exuberance and zest and a perseverance in humans to always move forward regardless of challenges. I have realized it’s important to listen to the details of this life as she fondly remembers days gone by. To see the joy and connectedness to life as she excitedly tells of a day at the river swimming with brothers or a Father who made pull-taffy as a special treat. She knows now as perhaps she did not know then. how precious those times were. It is deeply true that the only things that count are the minutes, hours, days and years we spend in living a life.

While enjoyable, it’s certainly not important to have the finest china and crystal or the biggest home or bank account. None of these things mean anything, not really. The gift I have been shown and discovered in the eyes of a woman unwilling to admit her health is in decline is that the importance of life, the one lasting part of life, is love. This is the thing you hold in your heart and coddle. This is the only thing you take with you when you go.

While this knowledge does not make the path I must take any easier, it lets me know how I must tread. Softly, compassionately and with all the love I can muster.

While I may not always have you to hold in my arms, I will always hold you in my heart. ♥