Posts Tagged ‘compassion’

a helping hand across cold waters

a helping hand across cold waters

An imperfect image yet one I could not make myself delete.  An older man was helping a very young child cross big stones at the ocean’s edge.  She was having a grand time dancing above the waves and perceived no danger in the rising tide.  The man was more wary, and getting quite wet, but given the smile on his face at the child’s unconstrained joy, a bit of wetness was all worth it.

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One day I found myself walking along, looking at the world around me.  I passed a stand of birch and I found myself thinking, if I only knew how to paint, I’d paint these trees.  I kept moving along, but the sight of the trees remained in my mind and I found myself thinking, if only I could write music then maybe I could write a song about the trees.  But I know I don’t write music and so I started thinking, if only I could sing then maybe I could find someone else to write the music, but that would only work if I wasn’t shy. Now, I don’t really think I can sing but sometimes when I’m sure I’m alone, some kind of sound passes between my lips.  And so that day, with all those if’s put out into the world, I decided to go ahead and try that singing thing.  The following soft words emerged in some kind of rhythm.

If I knew how to paint

I’d paint these trees

How the wind does make them sway

Their leaves sunlit

Their branches bent

While high above soars a bird

Nothing Earth-shattering but it did make me feel good to sing and then hum the song for a bit.  Only later did I realize that the tune (if that’s the right word) that I used for my trees was for that of Amazing Grace, a point made clear when I viewed one of today’s Cowbird Daily stories.  The video short is an excerpt from the journey of another walker, Andrew Forsthoefel.  I hope you have a chance to view and listen to the video for yourself.  And by the way, that picture above … there must have been a day when I forgot that I couldn’t paint. 😉

Amazing Grace

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The May/June 2014 issue of Alive Now Magazine focuses on hospitality.  I’m grateful to have one of my photos appear in the pages.  It is a lovely, thought-provoking issue.  Hospitality is something I struggle with.  I know I’m not always as welcoming as I could be but I will endeavor to do better until the end of my days I hope. 😉  Learn more about Alive Now and the availability of this issue here.

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I wish I had the money to wipe away all of the debts of my family and friends.  Because if their debts were gone, would that make them happy?  Would financial freedom allow them to treat themselves better, as well as improve their treatment of the people in their lives?  No fancy behavior required, just respect, if not outright love and compassion.

Would it enable them to give the people in their lives a hug, on occasion, or at least a pat on the hand, and even sometimes to perform such actions without even being asked? Would it enable them to talk to each other and communicate in ways that work for all involved and not just one side? Perhaps conversations could take place without someone always having to be wrong so that someone can be right.

window8But I don’t have such funds to give and even if I did, I’m not sure that it would make a difference because in the end, I can control no one’s behavior except my own.  Maybe I should wish for the money so that I can travel around the world, to where all these friends and family members live, those that are suffering and in some form of pain. Perhaps I could pass out those hugs or those pats on the hand, so that certain people know that they are loved and that their presence does make a difference to the people around them and always has, even if words of gratitude are not often shared.

Of late I have received so many calls and notes from friends and family, all suffering in some way, but mostly feeling alone though they are surrounded by others.  I hear only their words, and know that there is always more than one side to any story.  I can make no judgements about those others in their lives.  I just wish that all were happy and each knew how precious each day was to have such people in their lives.  I can listen to the words and I can read the notes but I cannot change behavior.  But there is something I can do.
Each spring into summer, I buy seeds of all kinds, in packages large and small.  I send them out into the world to family and friends, of all ages, to help people pause and maybe even share a precious moment with others as they plant the seeds in the soil.  I send them to the closest of friends and family, and I send them to family and friends I know not very well at all.  I send them to the people who cannot speak to each other in hopes they can plant a seed together even if they do so in silence.  It is a selfish act — to know that I did something, gave something, to another.  I do not know what the seeds do for the recipients or even if the seeds are planted.  I simply hope they are.  I hope they are.

*the photographs are the latest series of photographs taken through the rippled glass, of life blurried but still beautiful

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Of late, I’ve met a man from a war-torn country who now lives and works in the U.S.  He has described to me scenes of great brutality inflicted by man upon man for reasons like this person looked like someone from that country versus this country.  He often has a smile on his face.

I am noted for seeing even an empty glass as half-full, but this man’s ability to find the positive puts me to shame.  Why is he so happy?  Not because he has a job that pays exceptionally well. He doesn’t.  Not because he’s made many new friends in this country.  He hasn’t.  I think it is because, even as the soil ran red with blood around him, he remained open to the possibilities.  He saw the beauty amidst the horror, like the flowers blossoming near that same bloody field.

He remained hopeful.  Or, as he once told me, he has love in his heart and so long as you have love, what else do you need? Hmmm.

One day I did chance upon him not smiling. I asked the first question that came to mind. “Do you still have love in your heart?”  He did not react with surprise to my words.  His brow furrowed in deep thought.  After a moment, he nodded, and then he smiled broadly.  “Yes, Cynthia.  Yes I do!”

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Today I made my annual donation to one of the nonprofits I support, WalkBoston.  As a card carrying pedestrian (and dreamer), believe me, I need help crossing the road.  I made the donation in memory of my Aunt Thelma who used to describe her walks to me.  Following is a blog post I wrote about her two years ago, about how she influenced who I am today, including how I can choose to give myself to others.  This bright, beautiful day is her birthday so it seems like a good time to give back, and give thanks for her having been in the world.  At the end of the post is a youtube video of Dives and Lazarus by composer Ralph Vaughn Williams.  It was music Steve had shared with me, and music I remember replaying until I could collect the words to write about a lovely woman who in her own unique way helped me learn to walk in this world.  Please enjoy the words and the music, and have a good day.



My mother taught me to cook, to plant flowers, and to tell stories.  From her I learned to love books and to love writing.  She passed away before I ever wrote and had published my first story.  During her life, I never traveled abroad.  She never knew me with a camera in my hand.  She never met Steve or any other fellow in my life.  But her sister, my Aunt Thelma did.

In Aunt Thelma’s bedroom dresser are the postcards I sent to her from my travels all over the world.  On her bookshelves are the magazines and other clippings of my work.  And, last year, after I returned from my travels with Steve in Japan, she made me create a photo book for her.  “I need tangibles I can hold in my hand,” she said when I pointed out the pictures were viewable online.  “And include a picture of that fellow you’re seeing.  I don’t know if I’ll ever see him any other way.”  They never did meet, but she read about him, and they spoke on the phone once.  I sat next to her on her couch as she laughed with him on my cell phone.  I remember him asking her what he should call her.  She laughed and said, “Well, why you don’t call me what everyone calls me.  Aunt Thelma.”  After she hung up, she asked me if he was a good man.  I said yes.  And then we went on to talk about my brothers and their families.

Growing up in Virginia, my mother made it clear early in my life if I was ever in trouble I could call my Aunt Thelma who was living in New York.  When my mother died, Aunt Thelma traveled to Virginia and was there with me and my brothers, along with the rest of the family.  When my father died unexpectedly a year and half later, she couldn’t make it, but I will always remember standing in a hospital waiting room on the phone with her crying and her saying over and over, “You go ahead and cry.  It’s alright to cry.”

In bad times but mostly good, I called her, especially after I got a cell phone.  I could call her randomly as I returned home from work.  She’d laugh at my stories and in the end, wind up telling me to be careful as I crossed the street.  She always ended her calls with, “I love you, Cynthia.”

My Aunt Thelma passed away this weekend.  I will miss her.  I am thankful that she was in my life.  I learned a lot.  In NY this weekend, as the family gathered, I held one of my young cousins in my arms.  She was crying.  “I’m sorry,” she said as she tried to wipe her face.  I said, “Why are you apologizing? For crying? Don’t ever apologize for crying.  It’s alright to cry.  Do you know who taught me that?” When she shook her head, I said, “Aunt Thelma.”

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It has been a hard month, a hard summer, a hard year, for so many family and friends.  I read their words and hear their voices, and all I have been able to do, in the end, is absorb and listen.   On occasion I have been able to touch, to hug, and to encourage others to take such action.  Sometimes I have offered words of advice but I am beginning to think that, for the most part, those words of advice could be a song or poem or a passage from a book.  The words from my mouth are not so important as is my literal or figurative presence.  I am lucky to have them in my lives as well.

Despite the title of this post, I do not feel at the center of it all, whatever “it” may be.  As a writer, photographer, storyteller, I feel on the periphery, observing the chaos of life from odd angles that reveal ambiguities, sadness, horror, pain but almost always, great beauty, too.  When I talk with the friends and family who are struggling I find myself wishing … and then I stop myself.  I cannot live other peoples’ lives, but I can and often do ask them, “Without ignoring all that’s going wrong, what is going right? What’s one thing making you happy?”  One lovely friend will have a tendency to say, “Well, at least my cat is not dead … yet.”  And I’ll say, “Exactly!” 😉

These are the rambling thoughts that come to mind this Sunday morning as I hold close in my heart those who may be feeling a bit alone or vulnerable or just unsure of next steps.  I certainly feel that way about some things too.  And with that said, what is one thing making me happy at this moment?  It is the morning sun falling upon this apple creating a little apple universe.  At least I see the stars.

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