Vessel of Care

Last night I could not sleep. Technology interfered. I perused my Facebook feed late into the evening. Instead of shining faces of friends on holiday, I saw over and over the sad fate of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, his body lifeless on the beach. I didn’t want to see it, it actually made me feel sick, and yet I couldn’t stop looking…

For me, in the images, I saw a child only a fraction larger than my own son, deprived of a full life. I imagined the hard choices his parents faced when deciding to load their two young sons onto a boat in an attempt for a better life, and the horror when their small boat started to sink. I imagined those last moments and was filled with heartache and despair so heavy I could not shake it. I also faced so blatantly my place of privilege and how lucky I have it. In the grand scheme of life, my problems suddenly were very small.

In a time where technology and media allow us to know about the plight of those around the entire globe, I have at many times decided to shield myself from this. I can feel helpless in not being able to support all the causes I want to, or confused by politics or, which cause requires more assistance, or feel plagued with guilt about the fact that despite all the world needs, I still have things that I desire for myself and for my family…

The media’s use of the sad image has raised much discussion, and yet, according to the National Post, Alan’s father wants the world to see the dire reality he and so many others have to face. If you haven’t seen the image, you may not want to, but perhaps consider the sage words of Pema Chodron:

We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. We experience ourselves as being separate from the whole. This separateness becomes like a prison for us, a prison that restricts us to our personal hopes and fears and to caring only for the people nearest to us. Curiously enough, if we primarily try to shield ourselves from discomfort, we suffer. Yet when we don’t close off and we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings. His Holiness the Dalai Lama describes two kinds of selfish people: the unwise and the wise. Unwise selfish people think only of themselves, and the result is confusion and pain. Wise people know that the best thing they can do for themselves is to be there for others. As a result, they experience joy.

When we see a woman and her child begging on the street, when we see a man mercilessly beating his terrified dog, when we see a teenager who has been badly beaten or see fear in the eyes of a child, do we turn away because we can’t bear it? Most of us probably do. Someone needs to encourage us not to brush aside what we feel, not to be ashamed of the love and grief it arouses in us, not to be afraid of the pain. Someone needs to encourage us that this soft spot in us could be awakened and that to do this would change our lives. 

[When Things Fall Apart, p. 87-88]*

Last night, that “soft spot” was raw. I cried and hurt. I felt helpless. Then what I became present to is this: I can be a vessel of care. I alone cannot solve the world’s problems, but I can work within my reach. I can share, and bring forth tenderness and generosity of spirit, even when it is difficult. I can work to be my best self and offer that to everyone around me. I can be compassionate with myself, and allow what I do, or am able to do, to be enough. I can be grateful for all that I have, while honouring my own difficulties, even if they are small. I can feel what I feel and offer a space for others to do the same.

* With thanks to my good friend and trusted colleague, Capri Rasmussen, for sharing this piece by Pema Chodron. Also for Capri continually raising my awareness about current affairs, for offering space for discussion/reflection and insights into how I can help. To help with the Syrian crisis, Capri recommends supporting Oxfam Canada and UNICEF Canada as she believes their work is both effective and sustainable.