A Prayer for a Compassionate Heart

Do to others whatever you would have them do to you . . .”Matthew 7:12

As I descended the hill and made my way onto a major Ohio route, I saw the flag in front of me.  During these schismatic political times, I am not unfamiliar with numerous political variations of the American flag, but this one really bothered me.  I could feel its venomous bite, and like a poisonous snake, its toxin worked its way gradually into my consciousness.  

What is the purpose of a flag filled with hateful words?  Do they have kids?   If so, were they okay with their own children seeing those words?  This was also a major school bus route; those students would also read those words.  Did they think about them before hanging it up?  On and on my mind chewed on this image like one tries to chew taffy with its sticky consistency adhering like glue.

Miniature Old Glory hangs in my classroom.

It wasn’t long before a stereotypical image began filling my mind regarding the type of person who chose to hang the controversial flag.  Soon enough, the flag message became fodder for a few of my conversations–that is until my consciousness began to send me pangs of remorse and guilt.  

“Steph, you are pigeon-holing people you haven’t even met yet.  You don’t know that person, nor do you know the life they have lived.  Who do you think you are?  What makes you so great to sit in judgement?”

On and on my consciousness scolded me.  Then, came the remembrance of an image.  It was from my third grade classroom.  A small framed principle was hung beside the long ago classroom door, allowing it to be visible to those of us inside the classroom.  I was seated in the front of the classroom, due to my height, in a desk near the door, and consequently, the sign.  The image was embossed with golden flourishing, and the lettering was classically formatted in a bold black scripted font: “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”  

As seen on Instagram @ drwaynedyer.

As best I can remember, this classic tenet was dulled with age, lacked any eye-catching appeal, and therefore I am fairly certain it wasn’t something to which I paid particularly close attention.  While memories of my third grade are as faded as that long-ago picture, I do seem to recall our teacher, Bonnie McKenzie, referring to the picture, from time to time, when any one of us was not acting kindly towards one another.  In fact, I have a hazy recollection of Ms. McKenzie, once standing beside the picture, and firmly instructing us that this was the most important rule in our classroom. 

It occurred to me that I had seen the very same thing somewhere in my grandparent’s house, but like all third grade minds, it wasn’t a precept I fully understood.  Rather, I interpreted it as a reminder to, “Be nice.”  Not that I always applied it, after all, I was a third grader, and life wasn’t always fair, but I’d like to think I mostly tried . . . at least until those angsty, hormonal teen years . . .

Regardless, I am now no longer a fledgling third grader and absolutely capable of understanding the golden rule more fully.  Therefore, I continued to wrestle with my consciousness over my self-imposed verdict of the flag for the rest of the evening.  My mind kept circling back to that darn third grade image, and I knew that if I was talking negatively about this unknown person, I was NOT practicing my beloved teacher’s guideline. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am sure Ms. McKenzie was as flawed and imperfect as the rest of us, but I would like to believe that it was important to her that she imparted the importance of this rule, above all others, to her students.  Thus, that is how I settled my mind.  

Do unto others the way your cat peacefully loves you! 😉

“To keep the Golden Rule we must put ourselves in other people’s places, but to do that consists in and depends upon picturing ourselves in their places.”–Harry Emerson Fosdick 

While I’d like to believe I’ve lived through a wide array of situations and therefore have a wide breadth of informed life experiences that grant me permission to quickly judge or criticize–it is one of my greatest ego-driven flaws.  One could argue, as I have, that the ability to discern quickly can be a strength in certain situations. However, quickly drawing conclusions is still deduced from my limited life experiences and perspective rather than taking time to place myself in the shoes of the other person.  

As the strangely linked cogs of my stored memories continued to churn their mental back and forth, my mind led me down another deep recess to the remembrance of an additional memory:  Rev. Larry Brisker, my one time pastor, teaching his flock about the concept of “agape love.”

Pets offer us unconditional love–no matter how we act, what mood we’re in, or what political/personal beliefs we have.

“Agape love is selfless love . . .the love God wants us to have isn’t just an emotion but a conscious act of the will–a deliberate decision on our part to put others ahead of ourselves.  This is the kind of love God has for us.”–Billy Graham

I cannot pretend to be an expert of Bible scripture, but I do faintly recall first learning about the concept of agape love from Rev. Brisker.  It was one of those rare teenage times when I truly focused on the sermon. (Sorry, Rev. Brisker, I wasn’t always focused, but in all fairness, I was awash in those darn, distracting teenage years.) As best as I can recall, Rev. Brisker’s message on agape love was based on a passage in Corinthians I often call, “The Love Chapter”.  In particular, it was the verse about the clanging cymbal that held my attention because, well, I thought it sounded cool. Ok, I was a kid, but the point wasn’t entirely lost on me.  

God loved us, period.  It wasn’t based on feeling or the hollow promises of impressive sounding words.  God’s love came from actions–not feelings–and that, Rev. Brisker explained, was the highest form of love and what we should all aspire to offer others–no matter what they believe or how they choose to act.  Of course, I am quite certain the Reverend was MUCH more eloquent than my memory.

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Therefore, Dear Reader, I recount both of these faint memories to share this conclusion.  In this extended season of recent years filled with uncertainty, political divide, and one series of crises after another–both home and abroad, it was, and is, my lesson to re-learn that when I am quick to judge, that I must step back, and try to see things from the other person’s perspective.  In fact, it is my prayer that my conscience continues to remind me to refrain from acting as a loud clanging cymbal filled with noise based only upon my perspective.  The bigger picture is NOT about me. 

Instead, I pray that I may humbly be reminded, as often as needed, to extend compassion and understanding to ALL.  May I work harder to find a more gracious, warm hearted attitude, and not be so quick to render judgement.  Otherwise, I am acting in a way that could be, and has been, hurtful if/when someone quickly passes judgement upon me.  

Therefore, as the Golden Rule encourages all of us to do, may we all offer understanding and patience to others in the same way we would expect it given to us.  We don’t have to agree on all fronts to find common ground that binds us together as fellow human beings.  Agape love challenges all of us to humbly serve and offer grace to all as our Creator does for us on a daily basis.

“You can have the ‘golden rule’ do unto others as you would have others do unto you. But then you take it one step farther where you just do good unto others, period. Just for the sake of it.”–Jennifer Beals 

Treat others as you would have them treat you!
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Foggy Morning Leads to Sunshine Breakthrough

The fog comes on little cat feet.  It sits looking over the harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on.” –Carl Sandburg

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Not only is it dark when I leave for work now, it is often foggy.  This common autumnal weather occurrence, slows my drive along the twisty, valley roads in the hills of southeastern Ohio.  In the chiffon covering of predawn, my surroundings are hidden, my future path is concealed, and all that I can see is the road directly before me, illuminated through the low-beam lights of my vehicle.  Runners sometimes appear as if they are ghosts.  Other times, deer dart, scampering across the road with the grace of a ballerina.  There are other nocturnal creatures, stray dogs, cats, opossums, raccoons, and even skunks, that amble alongside or across the roads over which I traverse.  Sometimes, there are inanimate objects, unknowingly or knowingly, fallen or dropped from an unseen vehicle.  All of these obstacles offer potential threats and hazards since they only come into view when the headlights illuminate their presence.

As the current situation unfolds, I feel as if I am often moving through my days in a fog. Life seems to be demanding as work days are now longer, and there are unseen perils abounding around every life curve and news headline.  Often, especially at the beginning of each day, all I can see is the day’s workload before me.  As the day progresses, my view becomes more widespread, and I feel tossed, pell-mell, in a sea of waves engulfed by a completely revised way of living and engaging at work and in the public realm.

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Recently, my mother contracted the COVID virus, moving this shrouded illness directly into my own personal vision.  Mom’s COVID emerged after attending a family funeral event.  At first, she thought it was seasonal allergies that developed into a cold, but one thing led to another, and soon enough, testing confirmed what we suspected–COVID.  She became yet another statistic for the local county to track, but this number had a name, Mom.

Although she was in relative good health upon contracting the virus, she kept feeling worse.  While I will not belabor her unique symptoms, it soon became apparent that she was not recovering as she should.  Furthermore, there was no Walter Reed Hospital to rescue her health.  Her own children could not go around her to help.  She was left to rely on our phone calls and a very unreliable social media to help her.

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Despite daily phone calls from her children/grandchildren, offering this bit of advice and that, she did not improve.  Eventually, a decision was reached that she must, once more, call her doctor’s office because, of course, she could not go in-person.  It wasn’t until her 8th day with COVID, I believe, that her doctor recommended she go to a local 24/7 medical campus with its own emergency staff and decontamination room.  Unfortunately, there was no advice as to how she was to get there, and no waiting helicopter, paid by tax dollars, waiting to whisk her away.

Instead, my sister and I, the two of her four children who live here locally, were left to figure out how to safely transport her to the medical facility.  Of course, we could have called an ambulance, but that would further punish my mother with an exorbitant medical bill that she could not afford to pay.  Under normal circumstances, one of us would drive her there, but these are not normal times.  Driving her there meant exposing ourselves and our own families and requiring all of us to quarantine afterwards. 

Quarantining is like the curvy lines of dominoes I used to create as a child on my grandparent’s glass dining room table.  One quarantine means another domino falls and another and another.  Since my sister and I are educators, quarantining would mean putting more work on our co-workers and exposing our spouses–meaning more work sites comprised/short-staffed.  For my work site, I would be doing double damage to the staff because my husband teaches at the same school as me.  Plus, it would also mean that our daughter, an art major at the local university who is taking three studio classes that require in-person participation, would not be able to create her requisite studio projects. Meanwhile, my poor mom still needed medical care. Clink, clink, clink, I could hear the dominoes tipping as we tried to problem-solve.

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In the end, a compromise decision was made.  Mom drove herself to the medical campus, and I followed behind in my own car.  She was dizzy, lightheaded, and weak.  To say we were filled with worry was an understatement, and my sister and I talked on the phone nearly the entire drive.  Once there, I followed behind her illness-imposed shuffling gait. As she made her way inside, I stood outside the double glass sliding doors feeling both helpless and angry–helpless in the face of an illness gone wild and angry that I felt forced to make such a decision between my own mother’s health and work.  What kind of choice is that?  What kind, indeed?

Ultimately, not only did my mom have COVID, but she was also suffering from a UTI and pneumonia in one of her lungs.  While her care was more than adequate, it was still routine–steroid injection and prescriptions for more steroids for the following days, anti-nausea pills to stave off constant queasiness, and an antibiotic for the pneumonia.  There were no therapeutics, no experimental meds, and 24/7 care around the clock care.  Instead, she was sent home that same evening. Once more I humbly followed her vehicle home knowing she was weakened even more from the exertion, and I watched with tears in my eyes as she slowly made her way into her empty house.  There were no medical follow up visits, no medical personnel to check on her throughout the night, and no one there with her when she awoke in the morning, groggy and exhausted the previous night’s efforts.

One of the things that has recently struck me, and believe me, so many current events are cutting me to the bone, is the fact not only am I feeling overwhelmed by COVID, work, and life as we now know it, but I feel undervalued.  It is expected that, like a good soldier, all of us, including me, should simply fall in line, willingly do more at my work site, work longer and longer hours–including weekends–with no extra pay, and just accept that I cannot help my mom, or any other family member for that matter, when needed. Who or what is to blame for this feels covered by a fog of political bluster and self-righteousness alongside the winds of disheartening news and current events.  Meanwhile, many of us remain transfixed by the persistent distractions that media platforms of all types offer turning a blind eye to the events of the real world affecting real people.  If it’s not affecting you, why worry, lulls social media and entertainment platforms.   

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There is a type of fog called “pea-souper.”  It is a type of thick fog of various shades of black, brown, green, and yellow reducing visibility even greater than organically occurring fog.  Pea-souper fog is caused by air pollution.  This highly toxic fog contains soot particles and the poisonous gas, sulphur dioxide.  The only way to remediate this type of persistent fog, historically speaking, has been through clean air acts.   Therefore, I am left to wonder what will clean our own current poison-filled air of living?

Sadly, I do not have answers.  Perhaps, all of this chaos is working towards a greater good that I cannot see, but will one day be revealed.  I am unsure.  Instead, I must rely on my faith to light my path forward. 

May we, as a collective, offer up prayers for compassion, prayers for healing, and prayers for a clearer vision.  Finally, Dear Reader, it’s high time we clean up the air by not only praying, but also by researching the issues on less-biased news outlets/platforms and then voting your conscious, by engaging in meaningful dialogue, and by having the courage to speak out.  We must put our faith and our convictions into action.  

The fog is lifting. I refuse to be another domino falling into line.  What about you?

Faith is like radar that sees through the fog — the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.” –Corrie Ten Boom