I am waiting. For the tomatoes to bloom and the peppers to flower. For the sweet fruit of community peace. I don’t say world peace; that feels too big in the moment. World peace? It’s all I can do to garner peace on my windowsill; to keep the herbs growing. To keep them alive.
ln the beginning, there were seven teensy basil seeds. Meticulously, I put all of them in a pot of soil. I had doubts that the basil seeds would take root. Like I have doubts that I’ll wake one morning to find that the world has righted itself and the emboldened fascists in all countries have vanished. The basil grew and erased my doubts. My doubts about the world remain.
Within 14 days, the tiniest of leaves, so tiny I could barely see them, had sprouted. Thus (yes, I used the word “thus.”) began a cycle of magic. I received planted gifts from neighbors and friends: two cilantro plants, a mature basil plant, potted rosemary, two cherry tomato plants, and the pepper. Will I ever see fruit from the pepper or tomatoes? I want to think that where there are buds, there is hope. My other plants, the spider plant, dracaena, jade, and lucky bamboo seem to welcome the herbs with joy. They grow as if on steroids.
I watch these plants, talk to them like I talk to the trees. I have read that talking to plants lets them know we love them. One thing’s for sure. When I’m focused on my herbs, I’m not focused on chronically angry liars. This leads me to my rant of the week.
One has the power to choose tenderness over anger. Respect over disrespect. To choose the truth over a lie. Sadly, in countries throughout the world including the United States, folks have chosen the lie. In the U.S., it’s The Big Lie. It’s a very, very rough time for humanity.
Chronic anger terrorizes. Chronic anger hijacks the truth. Hearing the shouts of chronically angry people has taken my gaze from the pepper plant. For a moment. The chronically angry have done unbearable damage to our democratic structure. We know who they are. Some are friends. Some are family. They are people who get pissed off about everything, particularly anything that seems to make another person’s life easier, better; particularly things that show compassion and respect for their fellow human beings. Like masks.
They lie about the earth’s catastrophic climate change. People are dying from the heat. They lie about the fires in California and Greece. They lie about and spread conspiracy theories about life-saving vaccines and about COVID infections. They lie about the January 6th insurrection at the United States Capitol. They die in hospitals insisting they have pneumonia and not COVID. They lie.
In my wanderings throughout the United States, I’ve learned some things. Contrary to the angry screaming of fundamentalists about a punishing God, all of this dis-ease, physical and mental suffering, is a sign of ingratitude and disrespect for the life around us: Animals. Vegetation. The air we breathe. Disrespect for human beings who inhabit every corner of this earth peacefully going about their day-to-day business and loving each other.
God is not angry with his/her creation. I don’t believe, not for one holy second, that we live under the auspices of an angry God. Amid our terrors, trials, and obstacles, people of all identities ─ spiritual, gender, racial, even political ─ are falling in love. Babies are being born. The kind-hearted and empathetic are feeding the hungry. Many Christians are following the teachings of Christ. Families are being sustained. Art is being made. Chefs are creating cuisine. Peppers are growing on a windowsill.
We do find our way, don’t we?
For the past few minutes, I’ve watched as a red spider builds her web outside on my window screen. I squirted water on her web and she scooted away. I didn’t want to kill her, I didn’t spray water out of anger. I just let her know that she needed to find another place to build her web.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “You cannot live here.”
She returned, just as the love of God always returns when we become aware of ourselves falling into the black hole of anger. She came back to start over. The stillness of the morning and the focus with which she does her work tells me there is no angry God.
I want to be able to clearly define the anxiety, muck, and division I feel whenever I use the word “hate.” The word itself is exhausting. I wonder, sometimes, if the paralysis I experienced with the onset of Guillain Barre Syndrome so many years ago was a connection to my anger and the rigidity in the body. Anger: fists clenched, torso stiffened, jaw tightened, and breath held. Anger. Do I know I am breathing? What does the word hate even mean? Merriam -Webster defines it as “intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.” (Italics are mine.) Who injured the chronically angry one? What does she fear? As a child of the Baptist church, I know about choosing Holy words to instill fear. And yet, the waters of my Baptism at age ten changed my experience of the Bible. I would open the pages and find words of love. There is no angry God.
Xenophobia. Conspiracies and misinformation about COVID. Lies against the vaccines. The backlash against the facts of science. The unbelievably unhinged revisions to the truths about slavery and the formation of American capitalism. The denial of the genocide of Native citizens. We are facing a huge humanitarian crisis. Still, one has the power to choose tenderness over anger, truth over falsehood, justice over injustice.
My maternal grandparents were farmers. They grew fields of vegetables, tended grapevines, picked peaches from their trees, and prayed at four and five o’clock in the morning. My mother once told me what my grandfather said about pesticides: “If you put that in the dirt, the plants soak it up and then you eat it.” Science. And the tenderness of God.
I wave my hands to the Great Invisible. And the Great Invisible answers. “Your pepper plant needs watering.”
There is no angry God.
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Philosophical Rant: Pity
I’ve been reflecting on the differences between pity, sympathy, empathy, and compassion for a long, long time. Today, I’m stepping aside from my kitchen and baked salmon to explore the murky waters of that soul sucking scoundrel: Pity.
This is what I know for sure: Pity comes with judgment. Pity ignores the right of a person to make the best choices for herself and presumes that a person is not able to do so. Pity is tainted with the poison of dehumanization. Some folks pity non-white groups or people with physical disabilities.
My mother just turned 94, and speaks the language of those without memory. Alzheimer’s. I respond to everything with a cheerful “Yes,” and a familiar sadness washes over me. Empathy, not pity, is what’s called for here. In all of the years I’ve known my mother, I have felt that behind her rigidity and unfriendliness is loneliness.
God, we must lose the pity.
Recently, a person I know—someone who has called me almost daily for more than a year and someone who I now understand offered contact from a place of pity—asked me to do a small writing project, a resume–for pay. Now, there are reasons that I declined the offer. One, was a sense that, for this person, “money equals power.” In accepting payment, I’d lose my right to establish boundaries around what I would or would not do. If I did the work for free, my skills would be devalued. And, finally, unlike a typical contract, the expectations were uncomfortably dodgy. I declined.
It’s been a difficult lesson to learn. I sensed that this person, rather than being a real friend, saw me as “needy,” a person in dire need of charity. And, perhaps in the beginning, when I was so blindsided by my condition, I was needy. Yet life offers myriad opportunities to learn from swimming in the muddy waters of pity—both self-pity and that which comes from others.
If you ask or comment, as others have, about how I’m recovering so well, the answer is always the same: I have allowed myself very, very little time for self-pity.
Now, what about sympathy?
Sympathy allows us to truly see pain, but we can remain distant. We may or may not take action, but generally when we do, the action is one that allows us to keep our distance and lets others maintain their dignity. Donating to a non-profit that serves the poor or disenfranchised, working for or in organizations that help others, these are examples of contributing to the greater good in a non–personal way. But, careful. Sympathy can be a slippery slope to pity.
Then there’s empathy. Ahh, sweet empathy. I learned empathy from my father. Empathy is the ability to feel or identify with another’s pain. Daddy would always say: “Before you judge another person, walk a mile in his shoes.” He didn’t mean for us to literally walk in another’s sorrow. He meant for us to understand that, as Phil Ochs sang, “there, but for fortune, go you or I.”
That walking puts us on the road to compassion.
Compassion is taking that empathetic feeling, that ability to feel another’s pain, and turning it into true, non-judgmental, loving action. Action coming from love is compassion. Compassion uplifts and heals. Compassion never dehumanizes. Ever.
What a day. I’ve had my rant. It’s time to enjoy some salmon.
Posted in Essay, Heart and Mind, Kindness, Philosophical rants, Stories about life, values and spirituality
Tagged Commentary, Compassion, creative nonfiction, Dignity, empathy, Heart and Mind, Humanity, loving kindness, Opinions, Philosophical rants, Pity, Reflections, values and spirituality