Thursday, August 28, 2014

Phenomenal Compassion

I've been participating in the latest 21 Day Meditation Experience by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra. Today the topic was radiating compassion. I was excited about this meditation because I believe compassion is where we find the courage to see ourselves in those we are often encouraged to refer to as the other. As I meditated, my heart ached with a longing to see and feel more compassion in the world around me. I was reminded of compassionate people I've known and times when I've found compassion easy to express and other times when I found compassion almost impossible to find in my heart.

Part of the meditation experience involves answering questions built around the day's topic. Things got interesting as I delved into my thoughts on compassion. Lately, I've been witnessing such a lack of compassion in the world that I have moments when I can't help but wonder who benefits from pitting us against one another. The more others we create, the more discord we orchestrate. Hate, violence, and discord hurts us all including the perpetrators and the victims.

One of the questions in the writing part of the meditation asked me to think about someone I considered an example of compassion and list three reasons why. The first person to pop in my mind was my Grandma Stamm followed quickly by Dr. Maya Angelou. As I wrote about these two women, I was reminded of the dream I had the night before Dr. Angelou died and the poem I wrote as a result of that dream.

Two Women

Last night I dreamed
Two women sat at a table
One black,one white
Both wise enough to see
They must speak truth
Cups in hand
Platter of biscuits between them
They talked of love
They shared stories of life
Their laughter free
Their smiles genuine
Their insights built from experience
Two lives so different
One world-traveled
One always focused on home
Both reverberating a message
Of acceptance and truth
Of seeing people as they are
Of strength and beauty
These two women
One I called Grandma
One the world called legend
Both marked the world
With indelible ink
To create change within their influence
Both opened my eyes
To see people truly are
More alike than unalike

My thoughts drifted back to that dream and the poem. I felt a sudden insight; my perspective of these two women had much in common. I see them both as accepting, loving, caring women who were strong enough to set boundaries that commanded respect for themselves and demanded it for others. I realized the dream had as much to do with their influence on me as anything else. Much of what I believe about compassion I learned from these two women, and I'm sure they influenced others similarly. To me, they are both phenomenal women who encouraged women to phenomenal women and men to be phenomenal men. They pushed everyone in their circles to embrace their own wonderful selves.

As I examine my life and look for the compassion in it, I see I sometimes fall short, and when I do it is generally because I am fragmented within. It is difficult to offer compassion to others when you feel none for yourself. When you are fragmented within, it is hard to feel compassion for yourself. This is precisely when I discover it is imperative I withdraw and focus on finding compassion for my fragments. As I send compassion to my fragments, they heal and I more easily offer compassion to others, even people I will never meet and who will never know I am feeling compassion for them.

Compassion lifts us above the pettiness of our differences and puts us in touch with our commonalities. Compassion allows us to see where we can connect and where we can learn. Compassion drives us toward unity. Compassion is never wasted.

Compassion provides us all the opportunity to be phenomenal.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

T. L. Cooper Reads at Third Thursday Poets

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Someday... Revisiting Combs Hall, Eastern Kentucky University


So many memories...
 When I learned in February that Eastern Kentucky University planned to demolish Earle Combs Hall, built in 1962 and named for Baseball Hall of Famer, Earle Bryan Combs, at the end of the Spring semester, I felt an influx of myriad emotions. I felt momentarily overwhelmed. Returning to Combs Hall was something I always intended to do someday. Combs offered mixed memories and emotions for me. In the five semesters I lived in Combs Hall, many, many good things happened along with a few bad things. The reason I had avoided returning to my old room had to do with a life-changing event that happened in that room. I'd always felt like I needed to return there for closure, and I'd always found a reason not to go through with it. I didn't want to face what might surface once I stepped inside the room. So someday was always out there somewhere waiting to come. Suddenly, someday might be gone...

I emailed the EKU Alumni Office to ask when the building would be demolished. They responded that dismantling the building would begin in April but couldn't provide a demolition date. For some reason, I got the impression it would likely happen some time in May. I resigned myself to an opportunity lost for closure. So much for someday. Oh, well, I lived this long without it, life would go on. It always does.

When we drove down Lancaster Avenue in early June, and Earle Combs Hall still stood looking as it always had from the outside, I gasped out loud and blinked back a tear. I'm fairly certain I tapped my husband's arm and mumbled something along the lines of. "It's still here. It's still here. I can't believe it's still here.", but I don't remember for sure. I couldn't take my eyes off the building. Then I reminded myself we weren't there for me.Well, we kind of were. That day I was donating copies of my poetry books to the EKU Library, but we were in Richmond for my niece's Summer Orientation. This was about Kaylee, not about me. Still, when she went to housing to see if she had been assigned a room and roommate yet, I asked if it would be possible to get into my old room in Combs not really expecting them to let me.

They did!

Two staff members accompanied us as we entered the building. Many things had changed; some hadn't. Funny after all these years the things one remembers. I immediately remembered my mailbox number when I walked into the lobby. (I wish I'd asked if I could have the mailbox door, but it didn't occur to me at the time. Oh, well.) We headed down the stairs I'd walked so many times.

My room was in the basement. There were only 13 rooms for residents, two of which were half-sized rooms for only one occupant. All the rooms except two faced the parking lot. Our floor also housed the laundry room, for the entire building if I remember correctly, a bathroom and, I think, a janitor's closet.The numbers on the resident rooms were 1-13. None of this floor designation followed by the room number stuff for us! Apparently, at one time the basement had been the rec room. There was still a cable hookup in room 13 that some of the residents managed to make use of. That was before cable was in all rooms. I think it was one of the smallest floors, possibly the smallest, on campus.

Talking to our escorts about
how my room had changed
with my friend, Karen, when
this really was my room.
Note the doors
I walked straight to my room. The door looked wrong, but I wasn't sure why. Later I realized it was because it was gray instead of wood. I looked up. The room number was all wrong. It was 107 instead of 5. I felt a gut resistance to that small change.  I didn't even want to think about how many people have lived in that room since I did. It doesn't really matter. It was my room.

I stepped inside.

Upon initial
re-entry...
Teddy and me...
Note the built-ins and windows
I expected this flood of... something... nostalgia? regret? anxiety? bad memories? panic? vulnerability? bittersweet memories? some kind of emotion? to overwhelm me when I stepped inside the room. After all, the someday I thought was gone had unexpectedly arrived. It felt smaller. It looked so different. The built-ins were gone. A sink had been installed at some point. There were no beds, metal or otherwise. Furniture was stacked willy-nilly. The phone jack was still in the same place. The closets were the same except the doors were gray now instead of wood. The walls were no longer pale yellow. They were more of an off-white. The huge windows had been replaced with a smaller window. I felt a small wave of nostalgia and great relief flood over me. Yet, it wasn't at all what I expected to feel even though I still can't tell you what I expected.

Time had moved on. I had moved on. Even my room had moved on.

Built-ins gone... Sink added.
Window size reduced...
Studying...
As I posed in the window for photos, I remembered the poem I wrote in February, "Come Knock on My Window", and knew the girl I thought I'd left behind in that room with all those memories survives, lives, thrives in the woman I've become. Sometimes we have to let go of what we were to step into our truth, our strength, our selves.

Well...
I think this corner looked much
better like this!!
As I stood in the middle of the room, a thought started to niggle me. I pushed it away, but later that night it became a poem "It's Only a Room" because when I stood there and remembered the past, looked at how the room had changed and how it hadn't, I fully realized numerous people had lived between those four walls since me. They never knew either the joys nor the sorrows I experienced in that room even though I'm sure they experienced their own. Each of us left behind some small part of who we were as we grew into who we became. The pending demise of the room and the building would change nothing about my life.

with 2 of my Combs Hall friends
Terri and Melanie
Note the orange wall.
With my niece, Kaylee, outside
my room in Combs Hall
I walked up and down the hall peeking in the rooms where I'd laughed and cried with friends, spent nights drowning in sad music, celebrated... well, just about anything good because in those days we looked for excuses to celebrate, and made friends I still cherish to this day. The wall between what had been rooms 1 and 2 (one of the half rooms) had been demolished creating what I'm guessing had served as a kitchen and lounge area of some sort. The bathroom looked sadly the same, and I wondered if the most recent residents had organized their showers to use the first shower because it was the "best" of the three showers. One of the first tips Kelly Peck shared with me! The laundry room was just a big, empty space now.

Remembering
Making memories
I stepped back inside my room for one last look around. Both the room and I had
changed even while holding on to pieces of our selves. I smiled as I turned and walked away without a backward glance, well, okay, maybe one or two backward glances...

As I understand it, the building was demolished on July 31st though I've been unable to confirm that as of this posting. I, however, got my someday. Goodbye, Combs Hall, thank you for the memories and the friendships cultivated between your walls!!

Someday rarely waits for us, so we have to embrace it when we find it.

Did I find the closure I sought? I'm not sure there is really closure for some things. Some events happen in our lives, and they change us at our core. What I do know for sure is that standing in my strength in the middle of that room, I remembered that far more wonderful things than terrible things happened in that room, my room. I knew for certain something I sometimes forget - No single moment defines me.