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I had to work on Thanksgiving Day from three-thirty to ten-thirty at night. By the time I had been there for an hour or two, I had a real good case of the saddies and was well into one of the best pity-parties I’ve thrown myself in a long, long time.

For the most part, I attend all the family celebrations and stuff – it’s always been important to me to do so. I don’t ever want to look back and say, “I wish I had….” when I have the ultimate ability to stop that from happening right now, today.

So, anyhow, I was well into a really sticky pity party. I was getting truly morose, and feeling pretty justified in it. I was up to my ears in it, when I started thinking about my parents. They always make sure that there’s a place for all of us to gather together for holidays. What would happen when they weren’t here anymore? (I make myself face this unpleasant eventuality from time to time, trying to get myself mentally prepared, even though I’m pretty sure no one is ever as mentally prepared as they think they are).

So what would happen if they weren’t here to issue the invitation and the space and time to get together, to sit around a table with one another and break bread? (The ‘What If’ game is such a lovely and effective addition to any good pity party. Guaranteed to suck you even further into the mire). I am extremely unoptimistic about either of my siblings taking up the mantle and organizing and holding any kind of gathering, so it would probably have to be me. Then I started thinking about how that would all shake down without my parents around as buffers and referees. Not pretty. Not the stuff from which hazy firelit memories are made. The stuff of nightmares, really.

Then I started thinking about what that would mean, if I didn’t get together with them anymore. If it was just me. If Wittler and I didn’t get married, and/or didn’t have kids. If I was truly all alone on Thanksgiving and on every other major occasion for gathering together with family and friends. (See, I told ya – this was a grade-A pity party I was throwing myself here).

And then, it shifted. And I started to think about how that wasn’t the case for me. I had people with whom to gather, though I was unable to for this specific holiday. People who would throw open doors and arms if I appeared today on their doorstep. But other people didn’t have that.

And that’s when I had to scrap the whole mood I’d been cultivating. There is nothing like choosing to walk the ‘Path of Mastery’ that will put the kibosh on a good pity party. You can’t stay in it when you start thinking about what it’s like out there for everyone else.

I started wondering about the really elderly lady who lives a few units down from us. I only ever see the home care nurses – no family – come and go from her apartment. Who did she gather with yesterday? I started wondering about the man who came to my counter – he made sure to tell me that he was alone by choice on Thanksgiving, how he didn’t want to gather with a ‘bunch of strangers’ and keep talking about how the turkey was great (valid). But he lingered there, at the counter with me, unwilling to leave. Wanting me to hear him and see him. Wanting connection.

I started thinking about them, and all the people like them, who are alone on days like Thanksgiving. Who are alone so much of the time. Of those who, perhaps, did not even have the memory of pleasant times gathered together with others the way that I did (warts and all).

As I broke off pieces of my cold pop-tart dinner, I knew that my mom was tucking away leftovers for me to take home with me tonight, when I go over there. I knew that they wished I was there, just as much as I wished I was.

Yeah – you can’t have a good pity party when you’re on the ‘Path of Mastery.’ You can’t keep feeling sorry for yourself, when you know that there are so many others who suffer worse than you do. Standing for a moment on another’s path, wearing their pinchy shoes, has a way of putting all your trials and tribulations in perspective.

Today, I am grateful that I have the ability and the inclination to do this. I am grateful that every single time I get myself well into a good pity party, there is something that taps me on the shoulder and says, “I know you feel bad, but look over there. Think about how that must be for them.”

I am grateful for empathy. I am grateful for the choices I’ve made, and the people who’ve chosen to walk a stretch of this path with me. I am grateful for perspective and sympathy. I am grateful.

 

Try not to become a [wo]man of success but rather try to become a [wo]man of value.  (Albert Einstein)

I have never questioned the fact that I am here to be of service to others. I have, at times, questioned where the line between service to others, and disservice to self, lay. But, I have never for one moment believed anything other than that we are to be helpmates to one another. This whole concept has been popping into my screen for days now, and I find myself devoting a lot of time and thought to it. And then tonight, I read one of the blogs I follow, and her post drove it all home for me (http://bonesigharts.blogspot.com/2010/02/payments.html ).

I can remember a lot of times when my father gathered up his tools, and went to build something for one of his siblings. He never expected payment – he only knew that he had the necessary expertise, and willing hands. My mother has spent her life in service to others – to her family, to her extended family, to her friends, to her students. They cast a long shadow. Growing up, we were expected to do for others, and it was taken for granted that helping out is just what you do. Of the many gifts that my parents gave me, for this, I am the most grateful.

I went to Mount Mary College in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and one of the pillars their entire educational philosophy rests upon is service. Each class seemed to include some service component – in the course of pursuing my degrees, I have done an intense amount of fieldwork and volunteering. And I can remember wondering, when some of my classmates would complain, and argue that there was no educational value in these experiences – if they could see no educational value in reaching out to their fellow human beings in friendship and kindness, what on earth did they believe we were doing here?

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. (Albert Schweitzer)

I am no Mother Teresa, I am no Gandhi, I am no great humanitarian. But, I look for the moments where I can be of service in the every day, in the small ways. The other day, I was on my way to lunch at work, and I saw a very elderly lady struggling to get her groceries from her cart and into her car. Without hesitation, I was there, like the stereotypical Girl Scout, with a “Can I help you with that Ma’am?” And she was really grateful. When I first saw her, she looked anxious and she was struggling – and when I walked away, she was smiling.

And afterward, I thought about the fact that I never even considered doing anything else. (I also thought about the fact that elderly people might be wary of offers of assistance, and that this was something that I was going to have to start taking into consideration, even though the entire reason for their wariness makes me intensely sad). And I realized that this was the kind of thing that makes life GOOD, and makes us feel GOOD about being here and being human.

Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves. (Helen Keller)

I’ve encountered all sorts of people who believe that we aren’t here to be of service to others, that God expects nothing from us, and that we are only here to experience happiness. I find that a hard bite to swallow. I find that line of thinking impossible to believe – if that is true, then I am bereft and adrift. If that is true, then why do anything?

I think what I am really getting at here is the concept of empathy. Of being able to feel what it is like to walk another’s path, and to reach out to them based on that understanding. I have always been an insatiable reader, and when I read, I joined those worlds, became those characters – I struggled with them, wept with them, laughed aloud with them. I sank into the experience of what it would feel like to be them. I think that this is what has really helped me grow my already empathic nature.

If you have empathy for someone, you have compassion for them – you reach out to them in a way that preserves their dignity, and honors the bond we share as living beings. This is different than pity – pity puts you on a pedestal, and others somewhere beneath you. Compassion is one person reaching out to another laterally, and with detachment.

In Milwaukee, a twenty-one year old man was shot and killed by the young men who were attempting to rob him, because he had no money to give them. They shot him in the back as he fled. At the trial, one of them turned and grinned at the murdered boy’s parents, as if to say, “This doesn’t touch me. None of this affects me. I have no remorse.”

One of my coworkers was set upon on his way home from work by a group of six young men, and they attempted to beat him – when he wouldn’t go down, they ran off. When they were caught and questioned, they said that they did it because they were bored. Things like this happen every day, and I cannot understand how or why. If these attackers could empathize with others, they would not do these things, because they would know that to hurt another is to really hurt yourself.

Great and wonderful acts of generosity and kindness and compassion happen every day, too – large and small acts of service, performed out of empathy and compassion. That is what I choose to focus on. That is what I choose to spread along my path. The final Reiki Principle states, “Just for today, count your blessings and be kind to every living thing.” This is one of the easiest for me to follow (not always the count my blessings part, but I’m working on that!). This is the one that I wish was indelibly tattooed on my forehead. This is the one that I want to permeate my being – and the one I most want to spread to others.

So, this week, I plan to make a special effort to honor myself by honoring others. By looking for all the quiet moments where I can be of service. By setting my foot soundly on the path with purpose.

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile. (Albert Einstein)

‘Nuff said.

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)