I do my best…every single day. Some days are more difficult than others but still I reach for my smile and ensure it is firmly affixed. Sometimes, that smile, loosely attached, loses its grip and falls off between my bed and the shower. I realize by my quiet that this has happened. As soon as I recognize its absence, I begin to sing or hum and the smile returns.
I grew up with a father diagnosed with Polio. I recall from a young age the limp which accompanied him throughout his day. At the time I did not know what it was or why it was there. It was part of my dad and I love him. As far as I was concerned it was another part of him to love.
I took my share of lumps in the school yard because of that limp. I look back and like my dad am thankful for that limp. He always told me that limp was a gift. He had learned from his father to never allow anyone to tell him what he could and could not do. He used that limp as a constant reminder that life is difficult and full of challenges. Challenges are made to be overcome; at least that’s what he told me. I have learned this is true.
That advice has served me well these many years. I feel lucky to have grown up with a father with such a point of view. Sure, we didn’t do the things that most boys did with their dad’s, like throwing a ball around. My dad struggled to do those things and as I grew older I recall him apologizing for what he could not do. I always told him “It’s alright.” I know today throwing a ball around was not something that was important. Mt dad gave me a far more important gift; the gift of introspection and love. Like most, this was a gift that I did not realize was a gift until many years later. It is also a gift which has served me well in my marriage (26-years), my two children (Marissa 24 & Stephen 20), and in my career as a social worker since 1985.
I have recently spoken with several individuals who attitude has been “poor” to say the very least. I have found it to be blaming, condescending and most troubling, laughing at those less fortunate. I confronted the tone first with a disbelieving facial expression. This response was not met well nor was the response to my direct verbal confrontation. I have learned to accept, as difficult as it has been to accept not everyone perceives these situations in the same fashion as I do. I am forced to remind myself I grew up with the understanding these behaviors were not acceptable and as a result I do not treat others in such a manner.
As Thich Nhat Hahn says, “I smile, breathe and go slowly.” In the space between each breath I recall this poem by the same Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, “Call Me by My True Names.”
Call Me by My True Names
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow –
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which,
when spring comes, arrives in time to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood”
to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring,
so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears,
so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh
As a social worker and sentient being, I practice compassion everyday. My meditation practice has taught me to be strong in the face of adversity and Mindfulness has taught me to remain in this moment. This is the gift given to me by my father and it is only right that I return this great gift by passing it on to others. If you do not wish to listen to what I say, perhaps I can be a better leader by demonstrating and sharing my gift of compassion with you.