Monday, April 14, 2008
What Can Humans Do to Foster Compassion & Peace?
Yesterday I ended up behind a car with a red and white bumper sticker in the rear window. It read: “I will forgive Jane Fonda when the Jews forgive Hitler. “ It made me think about the dark days of Viet Nam, the war now and the Holocaust. It made me think about forgiveness and I wondered what the bumper sticker said about the mind-set of the driver—of human kind.
Can Jane Fonda’s trip to Hanoi in 1972 really the moral equivalent of attempting to eliminate the Jews in Europe? What can we as inhabitants of this big blue marble do to make the experience of living and working here an act of gratitude for the many blessings and possibilities afforded to us, particularly Americans?
Recently His Holiness the Dali Lama has been in the Puget Sound Area speaking about compassion as part of the Seeds of Compassion project. My daughter-in-law attended the Seeds of Compassion benefit concert and said that seeing and hearing him brought tears to her eyes. Although the exiled Tibetan monk has witnessed the brutality of the Chinese occupation of his country since 1959, he asks for peace and nonviolence.
In my life as a mother of a special needs daughter and in my work with special needs students I know that sometimes the smallest act of compassion can send out ripples that change lives. Conversely, a flash of anger or thoughtless remark can do damage that “I didn’t mean it that way,” will not undo.
What can we as individuals do in our own lives to spread compassion and foster peace? Poetess Ellen Bass’ poem “Pray for Peace” gives focus to what we can do.
Pray to whomever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or plastic cross,
his suffering face bent to kiss you,
Buddha still under the bo tree in scorching heat,
Adonai, Allah. Raise your arms to Mary
that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekhina, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent.
Then pray to the bus driver who takes you to work.
On the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus,
for everyone riding buses all over the world.
Drop some silver and pray.
Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,
for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,
each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.
To Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, pray.
Bow down to terriers and shepherds and Siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.
Make the brushing of your hair
a prayer, every strand its own voice,
singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping
through your fingers, a prayer: Water,
softest thing on earth, gentleness
that wears away rock.
Making love, of course, is already prayer.
Skin, and open mouths worshipping that skin,
the fragile cases we are poured into.
If you're hungry, pray. If you're tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.
When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,
to the video store, let each step
be a prayer that we all keep our legs,
that we do not blow off anyone else's legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer as the earth revolves:
less harm, less harm, less harm.
And as you work, typing with a new manicure,
a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail
or delivering soda or drawing good blood
into rubber-capped vials, writing on a blackboard
with yellow chalk, twirling pizzas--
With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.
Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.
Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your VISA card. Scoop your holy water
from the gutter. Gnaw your crust.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.
We do not need give up our lives and worldly goods in order to foster change and promote compassion. We needn’t join the Peace Corp or join a monastery. We can do it one moment at a time. We foster compassion when we slow down and don’t run red lights. We foster peace when we forgive both others and ourselves. We can foster change by attempting to be present in the moment, knowing that it will not come again.