Posts Tagged ‘compassion’

Usually, in the morning, I let … I mean that I empower … Steve to roll out of bed, make coffee and cook me, I mean us, eggs over easy. Always one egg on one piece of toast and maybe some fruit on the side. Kind of spartan but it works. But in recent times I noticed the number of eggs in the fridge were diminishing at a faster rate. Now Steve’s tai chi instructor Jon makes occasional house visits because it can be a bit of a trek for Steve to make it to the dojo. Jon can come in the mornings usually after I’ve left for work. One day I called home to ask Steve if Jon had shown up. He said, “Yes. I cooked him breakfast.” I did a double take. “Aren’t we paying him to come over and give you a workout?” “Yes, but I asked if he was hungry and he said yes and so …”

Now what I remember from ages ago, after Steve’s surgeries and he could appear and was indeed pooped all of the time, is that for a visit with company customers he pulled together (without me being present as sous chef) an amazing fruit and cheese grazing platter BEFORE they all went out to dinner and THEN returned to our place for a nightcap that he orchestrated. He was in heaven. When I described this scene to his PCP she nodded sagely and said, “Some people are energized by being hospitable.”

And so this morning as I raced out of bed (alarms didn’t go off) and raced about to make coffee and check the egg situation … well, there were three eggs. I knew Jon was coming by for class. If Steve and I had one each that would leave just one for Jon. So I put the container back in the fridge and decided we were having smoked salmon and cream cheese on toast. Steve, without even knowing the egg situation, said that would be just fine.

When I returned home, I looked in the fridge. One egg in the case. I asked Steve, who was in another room, and already knowing the answer, “Did you fix Jon breakfast?” “Yes,” he shouted back. “He said thank you before we went outside to practice with the kendo sword.” 

I smiled and closed the refrigerator door. Gotta buy some more eggs this weekend.

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black bird on rose branches (2008)

“Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us. So, be swift to love, and make haste to be kind.”

These words and this favorite image are my attempt not to give in to the vitriole sparked by what continues to happen in Washington. I am not sure it will work but at least I can say I tried. Have a good day, people.

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Be Kind

Be Kind. It is as simple as that. Have a good Friday, people.


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… those in the dark cast the brightest of lights. I think Tara Cipriano was one of those people. While she could never quite convince me to reach into her bag and grab the sidewalk chalk, she convinced many other people to do so, especially her nieces and nephew, and most often strangers on the street. Accepting me for who I am, she eventually stopped asking and just shared her art, and it was art, digitally with me. I think she wanted to share the ephemeral beauty she was creating in the world, and she was looking for positive feedback in a world where increasingly, especially internally, she was receiving so much negativity.


Tara had a great laugh and great mind and had an innate creativity that in recent years overwhelmed her. In a very short period of time she went from fitting a certain young professional mold to becoming a creative wild spirit. At first such sudden flamboyant behavior and change in dress was startling to friends and family and probably even to her. But at some point she embraced the new side of herself even as words like “crazy” were thrown around.


She did seek help, and with her intelligence, she sometimes knew more than her various doctors and therapists. And there were times when, despite her great intelligence, when common sense was drowned out by other voices, and she did things she shouldn’t have. She was only human.


I don’t know Tara’s specific clinical diagnosis and it wouldn’t be my place to say on this blog. I can say that she was a unique woman who brought joy into the world and filled it with light, laughter and color. Don’t even get me started on her love of glitter and distaste for the color blue … or maybe that was just blue pens. She loved profoundly and was profoundly loved. There are those I know who will keep asking themselves, “what more could I have done?!” and to those people I say: You did all that you could. I know that she believed that because she told me so over the years. For her, you were anchors in her life that kept her here as long as she managed to remain.


After recently dealing with my younger brother’s unexpected death, I told myself that I would write no more obituaries. I don’t think of this post as an obituary but it is my attempt to share the beauty of a creative soul who will be missed and who too many people never had the chance to really know. I think she is at peace. Farewell, Tara.

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I think the lady meant Jesus, but in any case …

I heard her coming before I saw her. She made her way up the ramp with an awkward sliding gait, using a cane for additional support. I walked over to greet her. A small woman — a good wind could blow her down — but she exuded presence even when she wasn’t talking. Now when you enter the building where I was that day one of the first things you might see is the No Public Restroom sign, a not uncommon sight in the heart of Boston. And it was when she saw that sign that she made her declaration about God and peeing but she quickly moved on from that topic to talk about life more generally. And as the air around me became lightly perfumed by the scent of alcohol, I gently interjected to ask, “Ma’am, I see, but how can we help you today?” She seemed perplexed by the question so I added, “Would you like to sit in the sanctuary for a bit and maybe pray or something like that?” She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Of course!” Now when she went in, I did peer through the window to make sure that that was all that she was doing. She sat with head bowed and I let her be. Eventually she did come out and as I held the door for her — she was trying to coordinate handling several bags as well as her cane — she asked, “Now where’s the bathroom?”

After letting my colleague know I was going to be occupied for a while, I guided her to the restroom. It was a long walk because as she explained several times, she can’t walk fast anymore. As we came to the stairs, she held onto the railing for support. At one juncture, I took one of her bags. And all the while she talked to me, telling me of her daughters, her son out west who was buying a house where she might stay one day. As for today, she was waiting for a bus. “And I planned it just right,” she explained, “so that I have time to come here to pray and then go to the bathroom and then get to the bus stop. I got plenty of time. Cause you see I don’t like to be rushed.”

“Where are you going on the bus?” I asked. And when she said to the shelter, I asked which one and she said Pine Street Inn. I could only say, “I’ve only heard good things about Pine Street.” And she nodded.

Now by the time we make our way down the stairs, there is no railing for support and so I say, “If you need to, you can hold my arm.”

She leaned her whole self against my side and took my hand.

Resuming our slow walk toward the bathroom, she apologized, “I don’t walk fast anymore.” I said, “That’s okay.”

Eventually we made our ascent from the restroom, back up the stairs.

She said, “You’re a lot like my friend Sue. She doesn’t mind that I’m slow. She never rushes me. Sometimes she lets me stay at her place. I can take the bus there too. She’s got her own place you see. She’s the best friend I ever made at Pine Street.”

Finally back in the lobby she adjusts her bags and we agree after looking at the wall clock that she still has plenty of time to make it to the bus top for her journey to the shelter.

“What’s your name?” she asked. I told her and then I asked her name. With a big smile she said, “It’s Theresa. Like Mother Theresa. Maybe I’ll be a saint one day too.”

And then she was gone.


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The man knew why security and I escorted him to the door. He was drunk and that meant he could not stay on the premises especially not with the beer he held tight in its brown paper bag. “I want to make a change,” he said, voice cracking. “I want to stop.” He sounded sincere, as sincere as the friends and family I knew who struggled with alcohol. “I believe you,” was all that I could say, then added. “I wish you well.” He shook the security guard’s hand and then he turned to me. “Will you give me a hug?” What else could I do as he leaned down but to embrace him?

After my shift ended I wandered around the building and there he was. Close, so close, to another door where he could have received help. Instead, he stood there in the damp of the day and opened the bottle.

The child did not utter the words, give me a hug. She just walked up to me with no other expectation than what was to be. If she were to lean against me but of course I would wrap my arms around her. Had I not done that the whole of her short life?

Somehow the child felt heavier than the man. The weight of her promise waiting to be fulfilled versus all that he had lost perhaps. “I’m tired,” she said. “I know,” I replied. “You can lean here for a bit but no sleeping. I might have to tickle you so we can get you home.” There was a giggle but the weight remained in my arms a while longer. And that was alright.

In my dreams I sometimes try to hold people. It is the gift of paupers and probably no greater gift. I hope so.

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Increasingly, as one watches or reads the news, it becomes clear that individual as well as collective action will be necessary to help people survive this looming long winter. These scarves were tied around the trees in Copley Square today. You can read more about the people behind this particular grassroots program to help people stay warm here: http://www.chasethechill.com/

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I’m not as limber as I once was and so I was having difficulty getting through the window but I didn’t have to fret for long because a stranger took my hand and pulled me through and when I lost my shoe on the rim of the window frame, he picked it up and gave it back to me and then turned and continued to help other strangers out of the train.

I wasn’t sure that I’d write about the chaotic experience of being on the Orange Line train yesterday in Boston’s Back Bay Station that filled with smoke. In the moment I was less concerned about the possibility of a fire in the station and more concerned about the growing panic of the people around me. Later I just wanted to let the incident go. But then today I picked up something and I remembered the feel of that man’s hand holding mine.

It was rush hour. People had had a long day and just wanted to get home. The car in which I stood was not packed but it was tight enough especially as most of us wore the beginnings of our winter gear. The lights were on but there wasn’t much air circulating and the intercom system must not have been working because there was no news being shared by anyone. The train had partially pulled away from Back Bay Station before coming to a halt, and later, officials would note that that was the reason the train operator could not open the doors, because of the danger of people stepping onto the tracks and landing on the electrified third rail. But most people were not thinking of that as the smoke grew thicker, and from inside the car, we could see people on the platform start to run for exits.

Even as I was starting to say, please, be calm, I felt my own panic rising. And then people began to scream, especially when they realized the doors were not opening. People began beating at the windows. The smaller windows on the sliding doors were easier to break. Individual flight was on many a person’s mind for sure but others were trying to help scared people through the small openings. Then in the part of the car where I stood, a man on the platform motioned people away from a larger window. He was not a train official or one of the policeman stationed in the area. He was just a regular guy. He kicked at the window, again and again, until it flew in, a single large sheet, shattering into a spider’s web pattern but no jagged edges did I see. People started leaping out the window while that man and some others stood, held out their hands and helped strangers out. I did not stop to ask his name but I think I shall never forget him.

Read more: Boston Globe article

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One of my mid-year photographic challenges is to photograph more people. Perhaps a post each Sunday? We’ll see … I begin with Robert Yearwood. At some point I may pair stories/brief interviews with these images. Given that Mr. Yearwood has been in this world since 1938, he has a lot of stories to tell. I first met him at Trinity Church.  I’ve learned a lot from him about patience, letting things go, and especially an idea that I have rephrased a bit — that all who enter a place, regardless of age, race, gender, or creed, the clothes upon their backs or the lack thereof, all shall be equally greeted. Whenever I want to be … not nice to someone … I try to remember that idea. 🙂

Robert Yearwood

Robert Yearwood

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I recently met a man who was rather wizened. His hair and beard were white as snow. He was bent over and not just from the bulging back pack he wore.  He leaned heavily upon a cane.  Still, there was a youthful air about him especially that twinkle in his eyes.  He entered the place where I was working and asked to use the bathroom.  Now even as I prepared to utter the standard words often uttered in the heart of Boston, he stopped me.  “Yes, yes, I know. You don’t have a public restroom.  But this is an emergency.” Isn’t it always, I thought.

But then he proceeded to share the nature of his emergency and so after making a quick call for coverage, I helped the gentleman to the bathroom.  It was a circuitous path down several small flights of stairs and around some corners. He moved slowly and so he and I had time to chat. And as he talked I could not help but remark, “Sir, you do have a way with words.” He laughed.  “Well, I should. I’m a writer.” As we eventually made our way back up the stairs, we talked some more. Once again I remarked upon his way with words.  He chuckled, that youthful gleam awful bright.  “Have you ever heard of The Pilgrim?” I hadn’t. ” Thumping his chest, he said, “Well, I write for The Pilgrim.”

I saw him to the door. We wished each other well and that was that. I forgot about our encounter until today, for some odd reason, and decided to look up his magazine.  I was not completely surprised but still a bit startled to see that it is a publication written by the homeless.  It’s edited by Atlantic columnist James Parker and published out of Boston’s Cathedral Church of St. Paul. You can read more about the publication via this link: http://www.thepilgrim.org/#!about/c69s

After reading several entries on the Pilgrim Blog, I almost titled this blog post “hard reading.” The writing is intense. Of the pieces I’ve read so far, one of the most moving passages, Adam Staggering, was written by someone who is no longer homeless but still adrift.  And then there’s The Bed Lottery by Ricardo.  The print publication must be filled with so much more and that is available through subscription.

I’m glad my path crossed with that of the wizened little man. I only wish that I had asked his name so that I might know which pieces he had written.


Image Source: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Head of an old man.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47db-ca87-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99


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