Friday, December 23, 2011


In my life, I have known a lot of words. My mother was a good writer and my father was a college professor who taught Shakespeare and loved James Joyce. Words, words, words. Meanings and explanations. Ways of connecting with others. Keeping loneliness at bay.

Words were apt or luscious or just one way to assert understanding or control of the vast panorama of circumstances that came and went, came and went.

A new word might enter the mind like a balloon seller at the zoo, a man with a large tank of helium who, for a price, would send the gas hissing into rubberized orbs of yellow or green or blue or red or purple and hand the result to a wide-eyed child. Mom would create a noose in the string and tie it to the child's wrist to make sure this soaring delight did not escape into the blue sky above.

But if by chance the balloon survived an afternoon visit to the zoo and made it home, it might float for a day or two and bounce along the living room ceiling until, invariably the gas snuck out and the wonder and magic disappeared. Mom might pick up the flaccid bit of color on the floor and pass it on to the nearest waste basket. The color did not fade, but the wide-eyed magic just wasn't there any more.

And these days, the color remains but the magical part seems to escape.

For example, I like the word "compassion." It is colorful and touches some part of what wants to be touched within ... some softness, some agreement, some part of me that seeks loving companionship. "Compassion." It's real enough and, simultaneously, there are plenty of people who use it because they are not capable of more honest words ... and besides, they want to make money. So ... it is both magical and, simultaneously, it is a huckster's paradise.

An Internet dictionary says of "compassion:"

-- the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it
-- a deep awareness of and sympathy for another's suffering
In other times -- perhaps when the mom within tied this magical balloon to my mental wrist -- I too was willing to ascribe "compassion" to others. Jesus was compassionate. Buddha was compassionate. The Dalai Lama was compassionate. And a variety of other people, near and far, were likewise compassionate as they stepped into my consciousness. The colorful magic lay in a kind of ueber-altruism. This was something to aspire to and to be somehow lacking. A persuasive goal. The magic threw into relief my own capacities for self-centeredness and unkindness. Compassion was out there while I remained -- without magic or delight -- in here. My eyes grew wide with wonder at the magic of others and I did my best to look magical myself ... to do good deeds, to help others, to restrain my impish greed.

It was good as far as it went, but, with the passage of time, it never seemed to go far enough. My good deeds never spelled out whatever it was I was after ... the magic, perhaps. Others might rant and rave and wax dutifully solemn about how compassion -- that social kindness to others -- was the one true way, but ... there was always a 'but' in my mind, a doubt and a sense of lacking: If all I wanted to do was to be a Boy Scout or a Christian, well, there were easier ways to seek out the magic. Altruism requires an "other" and there was something fishy about that.

Something fishy. Something not quite honest or whole. Something intellectual and emotional. Something nice enough but not really quite nice enough because ... because ... because ... because the magic was missing. The easy flow of delight that raises a colorful balloon. The woo-hoo and ain't-that-neat of things.

These days I think that the most compassionate thing anyone can do is to be themselves. Plain as salt. Just be yourself. Of course it may take a bit of effort to discover who 'yourself' might actually be, but if we're willing to pay the balloon man, how is paying a bit of effort out of line? Take responsibility. Correct errors as they arise. And be yourself.

What other choice is there? You're pretty magical after all. Why waste time talking about "compassion" and "magic?"

A line that once popped into my head comes back for a visit: "If you're so serious, why aren't you laughing?"

See the laughter unleashed ... floating away into the blue, blue sky ...

Magic comes and magic goes.

Just like everyone.

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