Part of what makes intuitive or studied practices of compassion effective and relevant are the memories we cherish of those who may no longer be with us physically, but whose previously-shared wisdom and examples still enrich our lives.
The legacies of humble souls celebrated, somewhat ironically considering their reserved meditative natures, on a global scale are often shared in classrooms and on social media. What, however, of those who did not reach the historical prominence of someone such as a Thomas Merton, Mother Theresa, or Nelson Mandela? What of the women and men whose lives unfolded upon much simpler platforms of little distinction but nevertheless became benchmarks of compassion for people who knew them?
The Confusion of the Flowers
A beautiful reminder of one influential face of compassion in my life--and truly in that of all who knew her--for the past decade has been a tall camellia shrub outside my mother's former bedroom window. Every year before her passing and for most afterwards, the slender branches of the camellia filled with pink blossoms around the middle of January, her birthday month. It seemed every chilly day for most of the month a new set of buds would open to breathe in the Southeast's coolest air of the season.
Something strangely different happened a few years ago and then again this year. Whereas the average high temperature for the month of January along the Georgia coastline usually hovers around 60ºF, the year 2017 started out at 72º, hit 81º the next day, and ended the month on a high note of 75º. Nice numbers for vacationers in short run but ominous figures for future caretakers of Earth.
Instead of the sudden random bursts of pink that normally appeared around the middle of the month and then multiplied to a full flush of blossoms covering the entire bush, less than half a dozen opened and many of the unopened buds had turned a lifeless mud-dark brown tucked between yellowing leaves. Like the children of Syria and other war-ravaged lands, a lot of them were dying before they could reveal their splendid hidden potential to the world.
Just as oddly, an azalea bush next to the camellia was already opening its fuchsia-colored blossoms to the unexpected unseasonal warmth, something it normally did not do until the spring, around the time of Easter. Even more peculiarly, a late January freeze later destroyed the azaleas but coaxed a few more camellia buds to fully open.
As likely evidence of global warming, the confusion of the flowers was nowhere near as dramatic as videos of entire shelves of ancient glaciers suddenly breaking apart and melting. Nor was the sight as horrendous as once-sparkling beaches suddenly blanketed by bloated corpses of seals, whales, or jelly fish numbering in the hundreds and thousands. The thing which it could be described as above all else: was real.
Dismissing Confirmations of Climate Change
I like the notion of compassionate accountability because it builds on the idea that we can address divisive issues without the need to permanently condemn or ban each other for mistakes made or convictions held. I understand it to mean cultivating an ability to address polarizing issues by leaving room sufficient enough to accommodate both a sense of recognizing responsibility and one of extending trust as well as forgiveness. It is the willingness to reveal difficult truths, whether to another or oneself, while foregoing the need to get hung up on self-righteous indignation. The problem with applying it indiscriminately is that too many of those whom we have chosen to "clothe with immense power," to quote the phenomenal Abraham Lincoln, prefer to ignore any degree of accountability at all where matters of great consequence are concerned.
While taking notes on the struggling blossoms of my mother's pink camellia, my attention was also directed toward the choices and actions of the new U.S. presidential administration in regard to climate change. Myron Ebell, tagged to oversee either the reconstruction, deconstruction, or outright destruction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), had made a career out of employing guerrilla decontextualization to portray advocates for responsible pollution control and climate change legislation as overreactive “alarmists." To think he or Scott Pruitt, the man ultimately recommended to head the EPA, would ever seriously consider the notion of having compassion for the Earth would be foolish.
However, Ebell and Pruitt had also stated their desires to reevaluate the narratives driving discussions on the science of climatology, which at the least could be construed as willingness to engage in dialogues about acknowledged issues. This likelihood was squashed when, only a few hours after Donald Trump's presidential inauguration, reports flooded the internet stating that the term "climate change" had been removed from the White House website and EPA officials had been instructed to refrain from making comments on the subject to the press and/or on social media.
Did this mean I might be considered a traitor to my country for daring to suggest that climate change possibly had something to do with the browning of my mother's pink camellia? Or did it indicate something far more uncomfortably sinister?
1 Feb 2017
Bright Skylark Literary Productions