Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Finding Hope In What We Are

Last week, in the days coming up to Christmas, I was dismayed at how the busyness of the season did not seem to bring out the best in folks:

A woman in a car gave the finger to a man appropriately using the pedestrian cross-walk, yelled at him for simply crossing the street.

A friend was knocked down in a grocery store line-up by a man who felt she was not “keeping the line moving."

A young woman, who clearly felt I should have let her into the line of barely moving traffic (honestly I did not think there was room and could not back up) wedged her van between my car and the line of parked cars along the curb and smashed my back side window, while screaming at me. (I felt very calm during the incident- shaken afterwards. I just kept driving – seemed like things could only get worse if I stopped and got out of my car.)

Ah yes, Merry Christmas.

But then, on the weekend just before Christmas an ice storm hit Toronto. Two hundred and fifty thousand households were without power for days.

Everywhere you went, people asked if you had power. When a man ahead of me in the grocery store line-up replied that he did not, the cashier- a woman he clearly did not know- offered to lend him her camp stove to use for cooking outside and they made arrangements to meet at the end of her shift.

Several people I knew were housed with friends of friends of friends- in other words, strangers- because the did not have heat.

Two neighbours put their large recycling containers out in the middle of the street to slow traffic so drivers would see a downed live wire. One of them stood out there for hours motioning traffic around the wire until Toronto Hydro could come, and apparently twice, folks in cars returned- one with hot coffee and donuts and the other with mitt and boot warmers.

On the whole, people were driving carefully and courteously, waving each other through where non-functioning traffic lights had turned intersections into four-way stops and helping each other get large bottles of water across icy parking lots to their cars.

After the window smashing incident I'd felt a moment of despair about . . . . us, about how human beings are willing and able to be violent over a perceived slight.

But later in that same week, I was touched by all the kindness that started to flow.

It would be easy, living in a large city, to get cynical about a lack of community, connection and caring. And, of course, sometimes the lack of these is evident. But, there is a choice here- and I choose to focus on the generosity of spirit and concern for others that was evident in the face of challenges created by the ice storm. Oh, I'm not in denial about how we can be destructive to each other, but I see the actions and attitudes of empathy and compassion, of generosity and kindness as much more indicative of what we are in our essential being.

And that helps me to think of the window-smashing behaviour of one young woman as a reflection of having a day (or week, or year. . . .) so bad that I may not be able to imagine it, and not indicative of what or who she is- what we all really are. The kindness and community response to the ice storm, helped me remember that she too is another-myself- and (after I stopped fuming about the cost of replacing the window) I was able to offer a prayer of real concern for her, sincerely hoping she is well and at peace.

Ah yes- Happy New Year!

Oriah House (c) 2013


  1. To be able to see beyond the overt actions of another to the potential distress behind the behaviour is testimony to an ability to see not with our eyes but with our hearts..... Comparison is the greatest gift of humanity!

    1. I got (and nodded) at the first sentence (although, of course, some days are better than others :-) but I wasn't sure what you meant by "Comparison is the greatest gift of humanity!" I am intrigued (since comparison often creates a lot of suffering as we judge others or ourselves as "better than" or "not as good as." Would love to hear more.

    2. Oh no- I don't know if I inadvertently deleted your lovely comment explaining that you meant to write "compassion" instead of "comparison"- of if blogspot ate it- so sorry either way. And so glad you meant compassion. Yes! :-)

  2. And a very happy New Year to you, Oriah, and as much inner and outer health, joy and love as is possible! :-)

    1. And to you Nora- may the new year bring deep peace and great fun and excitement in just the right mix!