Once upon a time, my home was known around town as, "Auntie Lea's Home for Wayward Orphans." I would host open-door Thanksgiving dinners, unquestioningly offer any number of my many couches to friends-of-friends-of-friends down on their luck, dole out first aid care and accompany people to Planned Parenthood. I didn't question the motives of the people who came to eat my massive pots of chili, or who slept two nights on my couch before robbing me on their way out in the morning.
Because yeah, sometimes, you do get burned. But you know that going in. I learned to run Auntie Lea's Home for Wayward Orphans from my own parents, from the way they lived. Over and over again, my sisters and I would bring not only stray kittens home with us, but stray people. Teenagers kicked out of their family's home for coming out, pot smoking ne'er-do-wells who were good people deep down, but who's parents didn't want to understand them. Abused children. Psychologically atypical adolescents. Young adults without a clue how to move forward in the world. We led them home with us, and my parents set extra places at the table.
When my younger sister's school needed volunteers to host students from across the state, my parents were first in line. Through all my adolescence, we always had at least one extra teenager living with us, for some reason or other.
A gay teenaged girl who's mom became my own back-up parent. A black queer boy with dyed green hair. The kid we jovially referred to as "our basement goth" for a time. My foster sister, who's status in our family my parents legalized in order to ensure she got medical care when she needed her wisdom teeth extracted, but who they loved and cared for and wanted only the best for.
We were robbed more than once. We were robbed by ex-boyfriends. by couch crashers, by friends-of...
And sometimes, a kid would show up on our doorstep with some of our possessions in hand, apologizing, because it had been wrong.
My parents never barred the door, and we kept bringing them home.
So when I went out into the world to seek my fortune, part of me knew this wasn't the only way to live. Part of me knew I could always say no, that I could always protect myself and my possessions first, and worry about other people second. Part of me knew that, but the rest of me knew it wasn't meant to be. Who I am is an open door, a hot meal, some fresh towels and an overstocked first aid kit. For two years, I lived in an apartment with six couches. Six. That's a lot of room to help people get onto their feet.
But things change. When M got sick, we needed to save our extra space for family. When we had babies, we were the ones in need, begging our parents to come and stay and for the love of got help us with these kids! Then with three kids under three, and even now, our lives don't often feel as though they have the space to always keep our arms open. Our hearts, though. Those are always open.
You may have seen an interesting phenomena across the internet today. Across the entire planet, writers are standing together and calling for us all to keep our hearts open, in an initiative called "1000 Voices for Compassion." The goal was to have 1000 people write about compassion, but the outpouring of support has been so much greater.
It is so easy to look at the world as though you are apart from it. As though you have nothing in common with the faces you see on the news, either villains or victims. It's so easy to pretend that our actions don't matter, because who are we? One person, in a planet of billions.
The truth is that you do matter. And your actions matter. And your voice matters. Imagine, just for a moment, opening your door for someone in need. Someone who, yes, might rob you. Who might be kind of crazy and might be completely different from anyone you've known. The truth is that when you show compassion, you gain so much more than you stand to lose. You can be part of the world growing closer, kinder, and more open.
You can be part of a revolution of compassion.
It begins with you, looking past what is superficial in a person. The language they speak, the color of their skin, the clothes on their bodies, the tattoos or piercings or scars or dirt. Look past preconceptions about who is what and what is whom and how people can be or how they are, and see that inside each of us, we are the same.
We are frightened of people, and we are frightened of being alone. We are confused, and we abhor our confusion. We crave love, and we do not know whether we are worthy of it.
All our actions stem from this, all of us. Good or bad, right or wrong, we all want the same things. Friendship, security, love.
Look at the people around you. Every human being is the same in this way, however damaged they might be by what life has done to them. Look at yourself, because it's you, too. You deserve friendship, security, and love. And you deserve to give it to yourself.
Look at yourself with compassion today, and tomorrow, and maybe- if only for a few minutes- every day. Look at every person with compassion.
We can change the world, not with wars or religion or politics, but with open doors, extra plates, smiles, and laughter.
We can make a difference.
Read my latest post here - Chicago's Climb Out Of The Darkness
Read more about giving yourself a little compassion here - How Do You Know What Makes You Happy?
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