Living with Compassion

She was sitting at a table under a shade tree. Her chair was one of those walkers with wheels that also has a seat. I went over and joined her at the table. When she saw me coming, a smile came to her face as she recognized me as a neighbor from down the street. We chatted about the beautiful spring weather, how good it felt to be outside, and the smell of food cooking on the grill. We were among the first people to gather for our neighborhood block party.

I asked about her health as well as how she was coping with the loss of her husband. I commented that I saw her children coming and going for visits now and again. She laughed and said, “Well, they say they’re coming to see me, but they generally want something from me. I guess they’ll always be that way.” We laughed. She told me of a friend who takes her to church. Then she became more sullen. “There’s only so much time I can sit and watch that TV. I’m bored most of the time. I can’t get around and I wish there was something I could do. Stuffing envelopes would be better than what I do all day!”

I told her how my mother shared the same frustration in the years before her death. I always tried to leave her some things to do to help occupy her time, but since she was blind and could barely walk, there weren’t many options. I held my neighbors hand for a moment and could only say that I understood.

A bit later, I visited with another elderly neighbor. She looked so very happy to be out with people, hearing the music, and watching the line dancers who provided entertainment. “I wish every day were more like this,” she said. “You know it’s hard when everyone you know has already passed. It’s like they all left me behind. I just wait till it’s my time to go.”

Loneliness, isolation, and boredom mark the lives of many people. In my immediate neighborhood, loneliness and boredom characterize the lives of several seniors. When I talk with them, they explain that they wish there was something to do to contribute to something. Because of frail health and need to be cared for by others, they’ve lost a sense of purpose.

I often see postings on social media about compassion. Many quote various teachers about compassion for self, compassion for the world, and compassion for various animals or endangered species. I haven’t seen many inspiring quotes about compassion for the people next door, our neighbors, or those we see at the local grocery or gas station. What about compassion in the neighborhood?

It’s easy to have compassion for people who suffer in some far distant part of the world. “How horrible for them!” we say. “Someone should do something!” In our better moments, we make a donation to charity or mumble a little prayer. Is the measure of our compassion the ability to feel sorry for those we’ll never meet, whose lives never really touch our own? Doesn’t authentic compassion begin where we live? With ourselves, our families, and those around us like our neighbors?

I’m fortunate to live in a neighborhood where people have an interest in one another. At our neighborhood association meeting following the block party, conversation started about the number of seniors at the party. Many of them live alone. We wondered what we could do.

With the help of two of the women who are very active seniors, we’ve begun to explore how we can be better neighbors to the seniors around us. Some of us are available to visit, help with some small chores, and just be a friend to the seniors who will accept our companionship. We’re just starting. Lots of people have volunteered to help. Only time will tell whether it works or not.

Yes, it’s important for us to be moved to send money, prayers, and good wishes to people in need in other parts of the world. But what’s more important is to live daily lives with compassion. Compassion close to home, in our neighborhood or with our families, is a real investment of self. It begins by our willingness to take time and be present to others just as they are.

The truth is that I don’t have a great deal in common with most of my neighbors. I strongly suspect that most of my neighbors have very little interest in the work I do or even more mundane things like the music I enjoy or books I read. Our association is happenstance, yet it is profoundly human. We share the same desires to lead lives that are meaningful, to appreciate and be appreciated by others, and to know our lives matter to at least some others. It’s in recognition of these things that there is common ground for compassion.

Today, as I walk through the neighborhood to take a break from sitting in front of my computer, I’ll chat with the neighbors I pass. Perhaps, if I see someone sitting on the porch or in a window, I’ll stop by just to say hello. While I try not to intrude, I do want to be a good neighbor to those around me. I know others in my neighborhood try to do the same thing. Perhaps we’ll find ways to be more organized in our efforts to be good neighbors to some of those who spend most of their time alone. That would be a good thing. Ultimately, these are tangible ways in which we live compassionately with others.

© 2014, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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