Tonight, perhaps it was the accumulation of an emotionally wrought week, the ingestion of cough syrup with a mango margarita, and the holiday nostalgia, that brought me to considering the confines of compassion. They don’t teach you this in kindergarden, but compassion can create an iron gate of seclusion and at the expense of your own self-will. I remember all the lessons of humanity as a child, to show my gratitude and embrace modesty, to treat others how I wanted to be treated, and to access the struggles and limitations of fellow man. Yet, I never remember hearing from my teachers and parents, or from the adults that I admired, that first and foremost… you must assess your own self-worth. To really function in society, or a city as overwhelmingly intrusive and energetic as New York, compassion will carry you far in terms of karma and good will, but it shouldn’t be for the sake of your own happiness and self- esteem.
In my relationships, particularly those of the romantic degree, I always find myself involved with the shattered souls. Men with fractured egos, with insecurites masquerading behind their wit and charm, and with wounds so deep that even they would be unable to tap into the beginnings. Still, I engage and over-extend myself to accomodate their dire situations and unwillingness to connect on a deeper level. It’s been easy to forgive the lovers who acted unkindly, or took from me without giving back, because I envisioned their pain and suffering and unconscious limitations. My compassion has been boundless, as I’d look beyond the inconsiderate words, the times my birthday would be forgotten, or the time I opened my home and life to someone to only be discarded in a moment’s notice. And despite all these instances, I find my spirit fighting against my jaded words in conversations and sarcastic twist on life, because deep down I hold onto that compassion. I embrace the overanalysis and the need to understand… the need to grow. I fall into the trap of being an enabler; the hardest role to play because it’s so easy to forgive and have compassion for others… when giving the same leeway to myself is borderline impossible.
This week, an agency that has booked me on many a fun assignment, sent to stand outside the New York Stock Exchange by myself with a bag of golf clubs. I was told I’d be assisting a high-end event, not that I’d be a street hustler passing out golf fliers by myself. It was a humbling pill to swallow, but the money was decent and I felt a sense of loyalty to the client and company in spite of being misled. One can learn a lot standing on any given street corner for five hours, but in New York the education is twelvefold. I bonded with the Salvation Army chaps, who collected money for the sake of their own education and charitable requirements. One of the gents, no more that 22 or 23, pointed his gloved hand to the New York Stock Exchange and declared, “Do you see that? That’s the world economy. But I’m lucky if we collect a few hundred dollars a day here. The real collections come in at Herald’s Square, by the tourists. All this money goes right back to New York.” He stood, freezing, volunteering day after day, and all his efforts went to aiding a city in which he didn’t even live.
I was really cold on this day, battling with my bronchitis bark, even though we reached a global-warming high of 50-something degrees. While I was shivering, placed between a garbage can and the golf bag of pricey clubs, I watched a short-haired, middle-aged woman walk towards my corner. A few members of the NYPD tipped their heads and said, “Hey there, Mary.” She smiled and waved back and came over to me.
“Golf is… is…. is not a fun sport,” she stuttered. “It’s… well… fr-frustrating. And it’s expensive. I like to bowl.” I agreed with her that bowling is the finer sport for releasing frustration and aggression. Another NYPD gent passed us by and said hello to Mary. I remarked on how famous she was in this neighborhood. She thought for a moment and responded, “I’m homeless here too. So this is my neighborhood and I know everyone. Hey! Are you hungry or thirsty? Do you need some water?”
I answered no, and that I already had some juice on me.
“That’s not cold. Don’t you need something cold?”
I answered, “It’s freezing already out here. I’m sure my bottle is cold enough.” Her face scrunched up and she shook her hand at me.
“This isn’t cold! Today’s a nice day. It’s warm out in the sun.” If anyone knew cold, Mary did. She looked away and turned back to me. “If you need any food or water, I don’t want you to spend your money. You’re working out here and I can take care of you. I can get you whatever you need because I know people. Okay?” I nodded, quite in awe, as Mary squinted her face with confidence and… compassion. I watched her walk away, offering to carry the luggage of a woman waiting down the sidewalk… extending her kindness to everyone. My interaction with her took away the sting of indignity and annoyance I felt towards my current state of work and being. It was so temporary in contrast to the struggles she saw on a daily basis.
When I think of the week in review, and wonder about the times I’ve extended my heart, my compassion, and my concern for other people and was hurt by the lack of acknowledgement or reciprocity, I realized a few things. To forfeit the compassion to self-protect, to thrive in anger against myself for being so hurt by those people who so easily discarded me, and to live my life with regrets for caring too deeply for those who were so careless, takes me down the wrong winding road. And it may be the hardest lesson for me to learn in this life, but it’s so important to extend that compassion felt for other people to myself, and to not sacrifice my own self-worth in the process. I hope I can remember this all in those bittersweet moments of regret towards my past, and the relationships that could never work out… no matter how much faith, compassion, and hope I invested.
Thank you, Mary.