Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Compassion button

My heart melted yesterday, but only after it was jolted by the blaring fire alarm just outside my studio door. I neither heard nor saw anything else, so grabbed my coat, phone and purse and headed outside. All was quiet. Hum, I thought,  drill or real?

A few minutes later, the teachers, aids and students inside the school for those on the autism spectrum came filing out. Orderly. Not in a panic as I would have expected the alarm to trigger. Several had their ears covered. It had been so suspiciously silent most of the day that I had wondered if they were out of school. I have grown accustomed to, even fond of, the shirks, groans, singing and cries. That is once I got past the fact they were not expressions of pain, just expressions of living inside oneself.

As they streamed out, tagging onto each other and being pushed in wheel chairs, I noticed the extreme level of need some of these children live with. A kind teacher was gently bundling her charge up in a fleece blanket. All I could detect was the tassel of ginger hair trailing out of the soft, patterned volcano, like lava. I helped tuck her in a bit more snugly, feeling guilty that I'd had no one to tend but myself and time to grab my warm jacket. "She was already not feeling well today," her teacher remarked. She wasn't the only one struggling. All of them were freezing, so they began to huddle at the faraway fence, frozen as the two fire tricks and police cruiser screeched by. Finally a walkie-talkie revealed the coast was clear and the disrupted, red-cheeked kids and young adults were moved back inside. I ran ahead and held the door open, the VERY least I could do.

I typically meet some of the more able-bodied students during their recesses and walks or when they line up for the busses. We'll share a snippet of conversation or smiles. I had not understood that some are much less mobile and non-communicative. Wow. This school does an even more amazing job than I had previously credited it or its staff. Busy door holding, I looked up to see a teen girl in some sort of torso brace. Not uncomfortable, just necessary. I don't have a clue as to her issues or what job her paraphernalia performed. A wave of grief hit in a modicum of feeling for what her parents must experience. It wasn't pity, more a shred of empathy for her parents. I know how difficult is it to raise teenagers with just their normal amount of drama and hormones. What if I struggled to really communicate with them – past our petty control arguments and family gripes?

I am ever more grateful for the school just beyond the double doors for their care, nurturing and education of those with greater needs in our society. How incredible parents have this resource.

Last night, my book club discussed Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, a book so poetically and lushly written with a haunting story that touched my core ... as no other has since I read Annie Dillard. The story of blurred lines, misshapen love and dysfunctional familial patterns that connect generations was profoundly sad, yet I wanted to read on. The twins the novel focuses on gripped my heart much as the children during the false fire alarm did.

Rahel and Estha are robbed of genuine love (we had some debate about whether their mother was a good one and concluded, given her history, she managed the best she could) but find a twisted version between themselves. Your heart aches because unconditional love is foreign to them. You even grieve for them.

And, at the same time, you selfishly become more grateful for your own world.

Mostly, the fictional and real children prove that even in terrible circumstance, there is life. It may not look like the norm, but there is that of God in each one of them. And you begin to believe that God draws them even closer.

• What breaks my heart?
• How do I let down defenses to let that happen?
• How is breaking allowing something to enter?
• What builds my compassion?
• How do I take that out into the world?

it usually
strikes in
the same place

not that
I've ever
located it

right at my
in the middle
of my upper
in the

and I have
to remind myself
to breathe

that it hurts,
but it is
also opening me


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