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What if empathy was a finite resource that only existed in a fraction of the population? Imagine what would happen if the ones designated as caretakers of compassion went on strike. Or their kindness soured into cynicism. What would become of humanity then?

I’m concerned that compassion will be elbowed out eventually, especially since those in charge seem unwilling or unable to model it. The younger generation is growing up at a time in which “Instagram Influencer” is an actual job. We’ve even learned to condense our coarse critiques into 140 characters.

Now tell me, when did we decide as a society that pulling pranks was “all in good fun?”  This “heartwarming” (not to mention “housewarming,” but in a bad way)  video of a firefighter fooling his girlfriend into thinking their house was on fire so he could propose to her is (as all of our fathers used to say, say it with me now:) everything that’s wrong with the world today.

If I were that woman, not only would I refuse that marriage proposal, I’d throw my now-ex-boyfriend in jail for causing a public disturbance. Not to mention misuse of tax dollars. Of course, then social media would obliterate me for being a spoil-sport, I’m sure. I can’t even believe this needs to be said, but here goes. Terrifying someone you love is not kind.

A different video of a child in China who walked to school in weather so cold that his hair froze caused an outpouring of kindness. And this one of a stranger who drove 2300 miles to return a family dog to this sick boy shows that focusing on the positive is the antidote for negativity. Despite everything wrong with the world today, there’s still hope for humanity.

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Well, it takes a lot to get a kindly Auntie-type to the brink of physical violence, but it does happen. Years ago, a contractor that I’d hired to re-tile my bathroom trudged into the house carrying his equipment and the new tile I’d picked out. I noticed that he had a lit cigarette in his mouth. “Oh, this is a non-smoking house. If you would, please put that out,” I told him. He did, and I left him to his work. Hours later, I poked my head into the bathroom to see how the job was going. “Just checking in,” I said. “How’s it go-” I stopped mid-sentence. He had lit another cigarette and was blithely puffing away. “Oops!” he said sheepishly. “You caught me!” His face said, Sorry, not sorry.

I was livid and read him the riot act, but by then it was too late. He had puffed that smoke right into the grout of the new tile. As a result, the bathroom smelled like smoke for the next two months, even after I’d opened the window every day to air it out.

To me, this man’s total disregard for my wishes was a metaphor. When you put negative energy – or in this case, smoke – into a project, the end result usually stinks.

In my experience, a positive attitude and respect for those around you will lead to a better outcome. And, most importantly, you won’t get socked in the shoulder by an industrial-strength handbag (for you younger folks, that’s a purse – usually ginormous in size to accommodate Early Bird leftovers.🍝) This has been a public service announcement by the generally-mellow, neighborly Nanas who live on a street near you. We’re kindly, sure. But don’t cross us! PS Don’t slouch.

Picture this, if you will. You get to Heaven and God says, Listen, we’ve got a backlog of cases up here, so we’d like you to decide the fate of the people who mistreated you in life. Okay? Thanks.

Suddenly you’re behind a judge’s bench with gavel in hand. A stream of familiar faces flows into the courtroom. People from your past. They’re led to a table to await your decision. So. If you cast them all away forever, aren’t you doing to them what they did to you? Now who’s the perpetrator?

Isn’t it true that people who treated you poorly justified it that you hadn’t met their expectations? Or that you weren’t trying hard enough. Pulling your weight. That boss who yelled at staff. Didn’t she believe that employees need to fear the boss or they won’t meet deadlines? That ex who was cruel to you. Didn’t he feel he had a right to do that, since you weren’t the person he wanted you to be?

So this is the case for forgiveness. If you were in a position to mete out justice, it’s possible you’d throw the book at people – or even your gavel if you were in a mood – and become just as bad as them.

Not only is it better for your mental health to let go of the things you can’t change anyway. It’s possible that you’ve mistreated others without even realizing it. When you felt someone wasn’t trying hard enough, did you yell or give them the cold shoulder? Someone’s in the passing lane on the highway driving too slowly. Did you tailgate them? Of course, these are relatively minor infractions, but it all falls on the spectrum of disrespect. Keep your own karma clean: forgive, forget, and put the past behind you.

Instead of focusing on the president’s tone-deaf reaction to the horrific act of terror at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, let’s turn back the clock for a moment. During the Iraq War, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously said, to a gathering of soldiers: “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want.” This ranks as a shining example of a Tone-Deaf Moment in History.

A reporter named Edward Lee Pitts had been embedded during the war, and realized he’d been assigned to a company that had an unarmored truck. Since there wasn’t enough armor to cover all of the soldiers’ vehicles, they’d been forced to rummage through scrap piles in the region to salvage metal so they could “up-armor” the truck.

The reporter wanted to ask Rumsfeld why the troops weren’t being given enough supplies or protection, but was told that press wouldn’t be allowed to ask questions. Pitts approached a soldier to see if he would ask Rumsfeld the question and persuaded the A-V technician to give that soldier the microphone.

This is a case of one reporter asking why his own life was in danger, and by extension, all of the troops that were sent to fight and die. If something is important enough, you find a way to stand up for what’s right. You may even have to go around “proper channels.” Lately, it seems propriety is a thing of the past.

Since the message hasn’t been conveyed officially, we’d like to extend heartfelt condolences to the congregants and families of the Tree of Life Synagogue and the Jewish community around the world. Let’s conspire together to ensure this moment isn’t remembered for the tone-deaf non-response of the government. Good people around the world hold you up in prayer. You are not alone.

Photo by Matt Collamer on UnsplashShowing up as someone other than your true self can be wearing.

As long as I can remember (!) I’ve had trouble remembering things I’ve done, people I’ve met, conversations we’d had. So I learned to make up for it with humor and this unrelenting cheerfulness that has become a lifelong habit. In my 20s, I’d use the phrase, I had a senior moment there! when I’d forget basic things. Co-workers would laugh and say, You’re too young to have those! and the infraction would be forgiven.

If I’d said, I don’t know why I can’t remember anything, and to be honest, it’s kind of upsetting, it would’ve gotten a moment of discussion or a shoulder shrug, but you could only do that so often. People would assume you weren’t applying yourself, or were just not that bright.

So most of the time I would flip a switch and turn into this upbeat version of myself, which meant I was always presenting a persona instead of being who I am. I needed to write lists of every task. Not a general to-do list, but pages of what I needed to do, checked off as I went. If it wasn’t documented there, I honestly couldn’t remember if I’d done it.

It was only after I was diagnosed with MS that I realized there was a reason for my forgetfulness.

It made me wonder: What is it we don’t know about the people with whom we interact? Is everybody grappling with something? It’s possible that someone in your life right now is feeling this way, but doesn’t know how to express it, or where to turn to make it better.

Maybe we’ll never know what others are going through. Assuming there’s a story might be enough for our collective compassion to kick in.

With all the divisions in the world – in politics, between countries, even in families – it shouldn’t be surprising that there are those who believe we should eliminate the population of certain species to save other ones.

There’s author Jonathan Franzen, who believes that cats should be killed, since they kill birds. Then there are the scientists who have created a robot designed to kill the starfish that kill coral reef, so that the coral reef can provide food for other species (which, I assume, would also end up killing coral reef.) Others say that the starfish are a symptom and the real problem is port activity and pollution caused by humans. I don’t think any of us would vote for eliminating humans to save the coral reef!

On a more sinister note, there are those who truly believe whole groups are inferior to their own people. The Rohingya in Myanmar have been the focus of a genocide carried out by the country’s military. Leader Aung San Suu Kyi (a former Nobel Peace Prize laureate, yet) said recently that “the situation could have been handled better” but that “we have to be fair to all sides.” Hmm. Where have we heard that before?

We’re so used to looking through our own lens that we might not even really see each other anymore. Just a reflection filtered through our own worldview.

I can’t believe it even needs to be said, but what do you say we take “extermination of entire populations” off the table, across the board? Of cats, of starfish. Certainly of people. Of others who espouse a different political ideology or religion. Let’s all agree to this basic idea, and with any luck, eventually, we’ll work our way back to the Golden Rule.

With all the church abuse scandals in the news recently, New Jersey’s attorney general has opened an investigation into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in our state. “We owe it to the people of New Jersey to find out whether the same thing happened here,” said Gurbir Grewal.

Where have I seen that name recently? Oh yeah. Hosts of a radio show had courted controversy by referring to the attorney general as “Turban Man.” Grewal responded with aplomb, thanking the governor for his support during the episode, noting, “Others have faced far worse. We rise above this.  Now let’s get back to business.”

Maybe pain is training. Compassion calibration. A way to learn from the inside of the “ouch” what it feels like so that, when your turn comes to give someone else a break, you’ll stand up.

I remember a Sikh boy from grade school. It wasn’t always easy for him, as you might imagine, even though his wearing a turban was harming no one.

Childhood itself shouldn’t be a high-risk proposition, but really, where can kids be safe anymore?

School? Yes but. School shootings.

Church? Yes but. Pedophile priests.

Home? Yes but. Kids are more like property than people in society today. They have no say most of the time. Just what parents decide is best for them.

Change can only come from the inside. Of the school. Of the church. Of the person. Until there’s a change inside the human heart, the chain of pain will continue.

It irks me not to be able to wrap up neatly with an answer to this problem. Yes but. All I can change is myself. All you can change is yourself. So we’ll do our best today. Assume the best in others. Let them rise to our high expectations. Maybe it will be the start a new chain – of love.

Even though we live in different parts of the country and have varying spiritual beliefs, Lori, SueBE and I tend to agree more often than not. I was nodding in agreement and Amen!-ing as I read  Lori’s timely post on the recent clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

Hmm. Didn’t I just see an article about the Pope that I wanted to read later? Yes. It had the words “outrage” and “action” in it. As it turns out, it wasn’t about the abuse scandals, but plastics in the ocean.  So I searched online to see what his response was to the abuse scandals, and what he’s pledged to do to change the culture that allowed it to happen.

“It is my hope that the gravity of the abuse scandals, which have cast a light on the failings of many, will serve to emphasize the importance of the protection of minors and vulnerable adults on the part of society as a whole,” he said, according to a transcript published by the Irish Times.

The failings of many. Nowhere did I see him say, The buck stops with me. I’m the head of this church, and it’s up to me to atone for the past and find a way to make it right. Heads are gonna roll!

Contrast that with what he said about the the environment:

“In a message focusing on the ‘precious element’ of water, Pope Francis has called for urgent action to combat the “emergency” of plastics littering seas and oceans.

“At last year’s climate talks in Bonn, Francis rebuked those who denied the science behind climate change, and urged negotiators not to fall prey to such ‘perverse attitudes’”.

What is wrong with this picture?

Although I don’t belong to the Catholic Church, I do belong to the human race. With all due respect to the pontiff, if our children aren’t protected in houses of worship, where can they ever be safe?  

Photo Credit: Jack Gruber, USA Today

When you hear the phrase “free time,” you might think of reading, going to the park, socializing with friends. But reading this article about a wrongfully convicted man who was recently released after being in jail for fifteen years, I wondered if it’s possible to put a price tag on time. 

“Under a 2016 law, Michiganians who were wrongly convicted can qualify for $50,000 for every year spent in prison, making Salter’s imprisonment worth roughly $700,000.”

Even with this settlement, how will he ever get his life back? And isn’t false imprisonment a crime? Isn’t somebody going to jail for that offense?

On the other side of the justice system, there are those who have been jailed for crimes they did commit, some of whom have been rehabilitated. How will they ever make up for lost time? And is it really possible to leave a life of crime behind and become a contributing member of society? This novel program in Baltimore hires ex-offenders to remove reclaimed wood from abandoned buildings. It keeps wood out of landfills, which improves air and land quality. It reduces crime by eliminating abandoned buildings, which often serve as drug dens. It allows participants to learn a skill and earn a decent day’s wage. It’s a metaphor: from unclaimed to reclaimed. They get to re-build their own lives by tearing down remnants of the past.

As the first story shows, some prisoners turn out to be innocent. Of those who aren’t, all of them turn out to be human. Granted, there are some in jail who need to stay in jail. Forever. But if lumber from an abandoned building can get a new lease on life, surely a person who has served time and changed their ways can be given a second chance.

The Lyft driver drove me to my doctor’s appointment, and as we pulled into the parking lot, he told me he was a pastor, and asked, “Do you mind if I pray for you? Because I believe Jesus heals.”

“So do I,” I said. “I’ll take all the prayers I can get.”

He came around to help me out and held the car door open. I said, “‘Preciate that, son. And thanks for your prayers.” I went into the building. As I got onto the elevator, I realized he was still standing by the open car door. He finally – reluctantly – went back to the driver’s seat.

Oh. Did he intend to stand there next to the car and hold hands to pray with me? Right there? That would have been different. In that case, I would have declined. It wasn’t just the issue of praying in public, but also of its being done in that location. Blocking the doorway where ambulances drop off sick patients for their medical appointments.

In some ways, his prayer would have been a performance. Publicity for his church. He could just as easily have prayed for me as he drove away. It reminded me of the time an acquaintance zeroed in on me at a gathering. Said she really wanted to talk to me. She’d heard about my health issues. That I’d gotten separated. She said, “I really think you could benefit from my support group.” It turned out to be Transcendental Meditation. So she’d sought me out, thinking I was a mess. Huh. I literally said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and left.

You can help people in a way that really benefits them, or you can meet the quota of your clique. Souls saved. Public prayers accomplished. Check.

The best way to represent your beliefs is to be a human being. Offer an ear to listen. A word of kindness. If you keep pushing your product despite resistance, you’re just another door-to-door salesperson.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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