Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On giving

It's a dark, blustery late November morning and I'm not sure I'm really up for writing on the subject that's present on my mind: dissolution and loss. I've recently heard that the marriage of someone close to me is in trouble. Thanksgiving is tomorrow and I am aware that for many the air is thick with the idea that everyone "should" have a happy holiday of family love and good cheer. But what if your family is unravelling?

As I've grown up and begun to see differently, begun to see new aspects of family life, I've been slowly facing my own sense of loss. It's a loss of the idea that there is some certainty and ultimate safety in the world/life. It's coming to the understanding that parents (or adults in general) are not gods possessing all the answers.

When we see life falling to pieces all around us, family comes down to simply BEING THERE for others. I have this image in mind of people holding tight to each other as the world crashes down around them. There's no where else to go, nothing left that can be done, nowhere better to be. Love is all that is left.

Today my sense of unravelling goes deeper and broader than immediate family. It's also about the human family.

I am more and more permeable, brokenhearted at all the suffering, all of the beings so desperately in need. When I was 19 I took a trip to San Francisco and was both amazed and annoyed by all the panhandlers and prostitutes walking the crowded sidewalks among the suits and punks and starry-eyed travelers like myself. I don't think it was possible to walk a full block without being asked for spare change.

A little over 15 years later and I see the streets of Portland are populated more and more by the homeless. Every freeway onramp or exit ramp has a resident beggar. Now that I'm commuting across town 5 days a week, I see them everyday. It always hurt to see people obviously unwell, dirty and degraded asking for spare change. Sometimes I pushed the hurt away by telling myself they were probably "just junkies", as if that made their suffering any less or less worthy of helping.

I used to look away and began to ask myself why. I  began looking at the aversion and resentment I was actually feeling. I was irritated at having to witness this living, breathing reminder of the magnitude of suffering that populates the world as I drove to work or yoga class or back to my snug, lovely home. I observed this response in me and I let it crack open.

I've been looking into the faces of these people. Reading their signs. Seeing people older and older. Vets, parents, grandparents. How are they any different at that basic human level, from me, my parents or anyone else? Letting that irritation crack open means holding a mess of vulnerability and compassion. Haven't they, like I, done the best they could with what they received and could create with their lives? Sometimes it's not enough.

Able-bodied, sober-minded, employed, loved and well taken care of, I must do something. There was one man in particular that recently got me thinking about what to actually do. He was old and grey and bent. With a silvery beard and angular features, he reminded me of my father and I remembered how it was insurance and employment and a steady family to rely on that got him through liver biopsies, expensive rounds of chemo and ultimately a clean bill of health and a twinkle in his eye over a decade later. But what if...what if?

I think we have to give what we can: eye contact, money or a job. Justin and I make donations weekly and on a reoccurring monthly basis to organizations that help people and animals. Dispensing dollar bills from my window isn't going to happen, but I've had the idea of driving around with a basket of fresh fruit and offering apples and tangerines.

Before we can give anything to another, we have to give acceptance - it's the unconditional love part of family. Sometimes though, in the case of divorce, it's not enough to overcome the burdens of life. And with the ever increasing number of citizens cold and sick and hungry on the streets, it's accepting that we are fundamentally the same, deserving of the same basic rights.

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