By the time I came along my grandparents had already passed from this life, but I was graced with numerous “adopted” grandparents along my path to adulthood. The one I learned the most from was my best friend Kim’s grandmother, Grandma Turner. Grandma Turner lived across the water in the town of Suquamish in a tiny house on the beach. Because we were rebellious teenagers, our parents were only too happy to drive us down to the ferry terminal in Seattle and send us off for the weekend. I learned so much from this tiny, hearty, tough little lady, but what stuck with me the most were her lessons in compassion.
On Sundays, after church, Grandma Turner would haul us off to visit nursing homes. Sometimes we brought baked goods, sometimes plants we had started or cut flowers from the garden, sometimes just our hearts and smiles, but this was not an optional activity. Being a bit shy, at first this frightened me a little, but when I saw the joy that just our presence brought to these beautiful elders, this soon became the most important and precious ritual in my young life. Grandma Turner gave me the gift of compassion for others.
Last month I was given the honor of viewing a screening of the documentary, Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory where Michael Rossato-Bennett spends three years following Dan Cohen on his journey to share this remarkable phenomenon in which songs from a person’s past can break through the silence caused by dementia and Alzheimer’s and bring a person out of silence and isolation back into life almost instantly. It isn’t a cure, but it is absolutely magical. In the film we get to meet this woman who suffers from debilitating mental health issues that prevent her from enjoying and fully participating in life. After listening to music from her past, she comes to life, dancing and laughing, but then she stops and in a heartbreaking moment filled with tears, shares that the most difficult part of her illness is that she is unable to contribute to the world. This hit me hard when I thought about the joy I feel from expressing compassion for others. I wondered, how can we give this opportunity to others?
I recently read an article in USA Weekend (April 4-6, 2014) about the 2013 Make A Difference Day awards.(http://www.makeadifferenceday.com/winners) All of the honorees are to be commended, but I was most intrigued with the Escambia Charter School:
“Some of the most troubled teenagers in one of Florida’s poorest counties attend Escambia Charter School. Eighty percent of the 120 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Many were rejected by public schools for bad behavior or grades. But on Make A Difference Day, they put others first.
Starting a month ahead, students collected or contributed 300 pounds of canned goods and snacks for a food pantry and the USO in nearby Pensacola, as well as 60 boxes of clothes for three shelters. Early on Oct. 26, 20 students, with 15 parents and teachers, organized and delivered the donations — then split into teams to do yard work for four elderly or disabled homeowners.”
This is great, but what got my attention was this, “The students were so proud,” says Principal Jerome Chisolm. “The community didn’t expect this from our kids. The kids didn’t even expect it from themselves. Helping others shows them the world doesn’t revolve around them.”
What a gift these kids were given to have this opportunity to give of themselves. It seems to me that being able to contribute, to give of one’s self without personal gain, is an important part of being a healthy, happy human being. Which brings me back to Grandma Turner. What was it that she really gave to me all those years ago? The gift of compassion for myself, for others in this world. As compassion is a deeply held value in my adult life, one that I practice daily and derive so much happiness from, I realize now that it is just as important to offer this gift to others. And this is where the Compassion Games have entered my life.
As founder Jon Ramer states, “The Compassion Games are a form of hospitality.” To me they are an offering to come play, come be a part of this amazing experience of bringing joy and love to yourself, to others and to this earth. I think Grandma Turner would be proud of this Movement, I know I am.
Alive Inside: http://aliveinside.us/
Music & Memory Project: http://musicandmemory.org/