A Season of Compassion

“Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.” –Henry Ward Beecher

“Mama was my greatest teacher, a teacher of compassion, love and fearlessness. If love is sweet as a flower, then my mother is that sweet flower of love.” –Stevie Wonder


Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings, Happy Holy Days.

Last night I watched a wonderful Frank Capra movie which embodies the idea of compassion. It’s Meet John Doe (1941). Hah! Fooled you. You thought I was going to write about his most famous of movies, It’s a Wonderful Life. Actually most of his movies that I’ve seen have similar themes. The little guy perseveres and changes the world, or at least his or her little part of it, through sharing compassion and love.

In Meet John Doe, times are bad. It’s during the Great Depression. At the beginning of the movie Barbara Stanwyck’s character Ann Mitchell, loses her job as a newspaper columnist. She’s supported her mother and two younger sisters, since her father’s death and needs the job desperately. So, she writes her last column including a fake letter from a man fed up with the politics of the day and with the incivility of regular people toward each other. Her fake John Doe vows to jump off the City Hall building on Christmas Eve in protest. This of course, she hopes will increase circulation of the paper and save her job. You might think from that description that Barbara Stanwyck’s character is mercenary. Well, yes she is, but for a very good reason which you find out as the movie goes along. Of course, eventually the paper has to hire a “John Doe”, played by Gary Cooper, because of accusations from another paper that the John Doe letter is fake, and it’s all been a publicity stunt.

At the heart of the movie is the groundswell of ordinary everyday people forming John Doe Clubs promoting compassion for their neighbors and making sure everyone in the community is taken care of.

What actually started me thinking about compassion, was Karen Armstrong’s interview with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday a few weeks ago. Karen, who was at one time a nun, has studied the religions of the world and her new book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, points out that every single religion has compassion as a core tenet. Then a few days after watching the show, I saw Meet John Doe, and the two fit together perfectly.

Compassion is slightly different than love. To me, compassion is an ability to feel another’s pain and suffering; to understand that we all fall down and we all have a dark side. Just having a compassionate person’s presence, is a balm to both the sufferer and the one giving compassion. Therefore, compassion is one component of love. In her interview, Karen Armstrong pointed out that we all have a dark side and once we acknowledge our own ability to harm others, we can show compassion to others even though they may be showing only their dark side in the present moment.

That brings me back to the movie. John Doe is exposed as a fake, by someone who wants to use the clubs as a way to gain the White House. The crowds of people at the John Doe convention turn on him and revert back to their angry, wounded, pessimistic view of the world. That is, until John decides to fulfill the deed set out in the fake letter. One of the groups that we see earlier in the picture, come to the City Hall to stop him. Ann, played by Stanwyck is also there trying to keep him from jumping. It’s the climactic scene and we see that compassion lives on because of John’s message even though the powerful politicians try to crush it.

I know from experience, that compassion is a powerful force. Kind words at a crucial time in my life helped me find new purpose. Showing compassion for others is a way for the recipient to feel seen, heard and understood. I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but for 2014, I’m going to work on being more compassionate.

Another Golden Opportunity

“Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it.” – J.K. Rowling

“It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.” – Chuck Palahniuk

It’s happened again. Another school shooting. As I wrote two or three weeks ago, I refuse to be pessimistic about these violent acts. I choose to believe they’re part of our growing up as a species. We think we’re so advanced, and in a way we are, but in other ways we’re still children who don’t understand ourselves. We haven’t yet matured.

As I was thinking about this latest act of violence, I remembered an incident that happened when I was nineteen years old. I was working as a teacher’s aide at a Montessori school in Spokane, Washington. I worked in the three year old room. In the room were large windows and on one of the window sills was a pencil sharpener. It was low enough for the students to use. And it was a fascinating piece of equipment. One day, I was sent to find a couple of students who were supposed to be on the playground or at another activity. When I came into our room, the missing boys were playing with the pencil sharpener. One was sticking his finger into the hole where the pencil goes. The other was turning the handle. Before I could stop them, the first boy’s finger was lacerated by the blades inside the sharpener. I’ll never forget the look on the second boys face. He was shocked. He had no idea of the effect that turning the handle of the sharpener would have on the boy who’s finger was inside the device.

The thing is, we’re all a little bit like those little boys. We don’t always understand that our actions affect others. Though we should, because when bad things happen we’re shocked and disturbed. We don’t understand what’s happened or why. The thing is we’re being presented with an opportunity to wake up and see a bigger picture. We get a chance to learn more about ourselves and why we’re here bumping up against each other. There must be a reason why we’re all here experiencing the things that happen to us.

Unfortunately, what happens most of the time when bad things happen is we push the opportunity away. I don’t know why we do that. Maybe we think it will be too much work, or maybe we think we’re the only one who’s got a dark side and so we try to hide it. The thing is we all have a dark side. We all have violent feelings from time to time. The question is, how do we deal with them?

I used to think I could avoid more pain if I ignored it. I found that didn’t work. What happened was that another devastating incident would happen, only this time carrying much more angst. Eventually, after my life feel apart, I got it that if I deal with the challenges of life the first time around, my life is much easier. I’m still faced with challenges, but they aren’t as desperate, or seemingly insurmountable as they once appeared.

I guess my point is this, there will be more violence with guns and other weapons, until enough of us examine all the issues that are a part of why we continue to lash out at each other. As I’ve written many times in these posts, that’s an inside job. Each person must examine their own tendencies toward violence. We have to do as my sister says,  and “throw out our trash”. It’s a matter of getting down to the root causes of why we lash out, and heal them.

I have faith that the human race is growing up and waking up to how interconnected we are. What affects me, affects you too. That goes for the good experiences as well as the bad.

© Lucinda Sage-Midgorden

Give the Gift of Art

Since this is the season of giving, I thought I’d give support to a few local artists, a local publisher and an author or two. After all giving a unique gift makes the season more special. And think of it this way, artists have bills to pay too. Not to mention, when you buy original art, you can be sure you’re giving something unique.

As a good wife, I have to promote my husband’s work first. When I met him, Barry was an art student. After graduation, he worked as a graphic artist always pining to get back to his fine art roots, and his first love, pottery. I was thrilled when he got a job as a production potter and teacher at Sophia Center, a spirituality center in the Portland area. He was in heaven for two years. Then we moved here to Southern Arizona and again, he got a job as a graphic artist. But he kept his hand in pottery by teaching and eventually a pottery studio was formed through the city’s Leisure Services department. Now, eleven or twelve years later, it’s a flourishing studio with lots of creative people attending. They also participate in the charitable event, Empty Bowls every year, for which they won an Arts and Humanities Mayor’s Award. Go visit their Facebook page at the address below. Barry also has a personal artist page on Facebook. Both pages have photos of the work of Barry and other artists.

Here are some photos of Barry’s latest non-pottery work. He’s created other non-Christmas card lines, which I’m not showing here.

Bazza Christmas Cards                Bazza print

The Pottery Studio at Sierra Vista
Bazza’s Facebook page

The next artist I want to promote is Heather Green. She’s one of the many wonderful artists I met through Barry. Her first love is print making, but she does other forms of art as well. When I directed The Wizard of Oz at the elementary school where Heather was the art teacher, I got to know her better. She’s a dedicated artist and supports other artists by inviting them to exhibit in her gallery, Heather Green Studios, 27 Subway Street, Suite F, Bisbee, AZ 85635. Here is a picture of her gallery and artwork she did for the Altered Books Show, a charity event held this fall at the SAMPOE gallery in Bisbee, Arizona.

 Heather Green's Studio            Heather Green Mobile

Heather Green Facebook  Heather Green website   Heather Green blog 

I met the next artist, Andrea, or more affectionately known as Madame Magpie, at a Small Business Development Center workshop several years ago. She’s a silversmith and creates the most beautiful jewelry. At another SBDC event, she had a raffle for a $25 gift of her work, and I won! The earrings I won are among my favorites. Her business name, Madame Magpie’s Shiny Things is whimsical like her jewelry. The photos below show just two samples. I encourage you to go to her Facebook page to see more of her lovely work. Madame Magpie has an Etsy Store as well, which you can access through her Facebook page. Also on her website, you can subscribe to her newsletter and see upcoming events where she will be showing her work.

Madame Magpie's Shiny Things earrings     Madame Magpie's Shiny Things necklace

Facebook   Madame Magpie’s website

A book is always a good gift for the readers on your list, so last, but certainly not the least of the artists I’m promoting today, is Harvey Stanbrough and his publishing company StoneThread Publishing. I met Harvey through a fellow writer and subsequently took several of his writing workshops. Since my background is in theatre, I’d only taken playwrighting classes, but I’d heard horror stories of creative writing teachers giving brutal critiques. That’s not Harvey’s style at all. He’s encouraging to the novice writer, because he’s also a writer and had his share of brutal critiques. He understands how self-doubt can eat away at your self-confidence when it’s just you and the paper, or computer screen. Earlier this fall, he sent out a request for readers. Two or three book submissions had come across his desk and he didn’t have time to read them himself, so he asked his students to help him decide if these books were ready for publication. As a reward for this service, he allowed us to choose a book from among the StoneThread Publishing list. I chose The Wallingford Files: Last of the Firstborn, by Glen M. Glenn. Even though it wasn’t due to be published until later that month, he allowed me to read it anyway. It is a fascinating sci-fi book, which fans of political intrigue and adventure will enjoy. You can read my review of it on SmashWords and Goodreads. The list of books Harvey has published are in a wide variety of genres. The Sweet Trade, written by Debrah Strait, a fellow local writer, was published by Harvey this fall as well. I’ve read Debrah’s work. I think you’ll enjoy this book about pirates. She has a way of grabbing your attention and not letting go.

Other services Harvey provides are: editing/proofreading, cover and website design, as well as face-to-face and online writing workshops. You can also sign up for his blog/newsletter on writing topics. Here are all of Harvey’s links.

Harvey’s instructional blog on writing
Editing and proofreading
Ebook cover design
Website design
StoneThread Publishing 

Make someone on your gift list happy this Holiday Season by giving them original artwork. You’ll be giving joy to the creator and the recipient.

© Lucinda Sage-Midgorden

What Matters Most?

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”- Elizabeth Kübler-Ross

“The best things in life are the people you love, the places you’ve seen, and the memories you’ve made along the way.” -Tab D’Biassi Photographer, Lessons Learned in Life

As the year draws to a close, and we celebrate the things we’re grateful for, and the abundant gifts we’ve been given, I wanted to write something pertaining to the season.

On Black Thursday/Friday fights broke out over sale items and videos of these fights were posted on YouTube and social media sights for all to see. Hum…

I’ve been thinking about that a great deal in the last few days.

Many of the spiritual teachers I read say that we learn by observing contrasts. In other words, we see or experience something we don’t like or want and that helps us define what we do want. Here are some contrasts to think about.

We live in the richest country on earth, but we have the highest prison population in the world, and a growing working poor population. The rich get richer and the poor, poorer and the middle class dwindles. That’s quite a contrast. So, what can we observe and learn from that?

I can’t tell you what you should get from that, that’s your job. This is what I’m learning about that.

First, we live in an abundant universe with plenty of things, money and beauty to go around.

A few months ago, I took a writing workshop on observation. You can’t be a good writer if you’re not observant of all that’s going on around you. The instructor related two stories of friends and family coming to visit him here in the Arizona desert. They remarked at how barren it is. Not saying much, he took them outside and pointed out things for them to observe. Here’s what he was trying to get them to see. Most people think the desert is desolate. It’s not. Embedded in the ground are rocks of every color. The desert teems with wildlife. You just have to stand still and look. For example, my husband and I found fuzzy red bugs in our front yard one fall shortly after we bought our house in the country. We’d never seen anything like them. The desert supports all kinds of plant and animal life. We’ve seen deer, rabbits, roadrunners, lizards, javelina, coyotes, snakes, countless varieties of birds, bear, bobcats, mountain lion and many other insects and animals since moving here.

Then there’s the sky, which was another thing the instructor pointed out to his friends. Every morning and evening at sunrise and sunset the sky turns the most magnificent colors. On the opposite horizon from the sun, the sky turns lavender. And the light creeps from the east to the north and south so we’re surrounded on three sides by glorious colors. The night sky is even more spectacular. The first time I saw the Arizona sky at night, I was moved to tears. So many stars cover the sky that it looks like someone dumped diamonds onto a black quilt. Having come from Portland, Oregon where the sky is cloudy most of the time, I was enthralled.

All it takes is a few moments to stop and appreciate the beauty wherever you live and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The universe is abundant in lots of other ways as well. We just need to appreciate it and allow it to flow to us.

Second, the true gifts we give have nothing to do with how much money we’ve spent on the gift.

I’m not saying it’s not nice to get and give expensive gifts. That’s wonderful. What I’m saying is that the best gifts are given and received when thoughtfulness and love accompany them. And often the best gifts don’t cost a thing. Things like spending loving time with family. That takes so many forms. For example, on Thanksgiving Barry and I drove over to my cousin’s house for dinner and we met the newest member of our family. We’ll remember holding her and looking into her eyes and playing with her older sister as long as we live. It was a wonderful day. We enjoyed the company of our extended family and their friends. Nothing can replace good memories.

Third, hold onto and appreciate the things that matter most. Is that going to be the TV you bought on sale on Thanksgiving day, or during Cyber Week? As my dad used to say, “In a hundred years who’s going to remember?” However, in a hundred years people will look back on this time and remember us. They’ll analyze what we learned and if we made the world a better place in which to live.

What matters most to you and how can you celebrate that?

© Lucinda Sage-Midgorden

I Refuse to be Pessimistic

“If all you do is spend time focusing on what the problem is, you leave no room open for the solution.” –Mastin Kipp

“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation – either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”– Martin Luther King Jr.

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” –Jane Goodall

Why do we do it? Why do we always go to the cynical, pessimistic place first? Some unexpected challenge happens, and we go immediately into a panic. I do it too.

Something happened this week that made me see that I do that. I didn’t like it and I declared: “I refuse to be pessimistic!” All of a sudden I’d had it up to here (hand placed above my head) with cynicism and being pessimistic about life.

It happened at my book club group. We got to talking about the younger generation. (We’re a group of Baby Boomers.) One of the women said that she didn’t understand the younger generation and the discussion turned, as it always does with the older generation, to concern about whether or not the future was in good hands.

This kind of discussion gets my ire up. I guess it’s because I’ve been a teacher in one form and another for thirty-five years. I’ve taught high school and college classes for fifteen years, and every year, I’m excited by how bright and thoughtful my students are. So, I spoke up and said that I have faith in the younger generation and then I declared, “I refuse to be pessimistic about the young people today! I refuse to be pessimistic about anything!” This caused the other women to pause.

Later, I thought about it and I’ve decided that a better way to say it is, “I’m determined to be positive.”

My generation went through a lot of horrible stuff. We got shell shocked, so letting go of cynicism might be hard. We suffered through assassinations, multiple wars, a loss of innocence about government, and the turmoil around the Civil Rights of humans in this country. Many of those struggles go on today. But, our children have gone through some rough times too. That’s why we need to give them a break.

Let’s face it, life’s been hard for people throughout the centuries, but being pessimistic hasn’t made us happier. So I propose, we turn our thoughts to looking for the positive things happening in our lives.

Now I know that’s not easy. Some people have depression or other mental challenges, which means their brains have a hard time going to those positive places. At least it’s hard to do without help. However, those of us who can snap out of a funk need to give changing our thinking a try. All it takes is paying attention to our reactions and what we say about our challenges both inside our heads, and verbally.

As we all know life’s not all a bed roses and rainbows. Everything worth doing grows out of commitment and struggle. The baby is born with a lot of pain and effort on the part of the mother. But the pain and struggle vanish the moment the baby arrives. The child goes to school and learns discipline so they can be educated. At each achievement the child sees the value of the effort. The artist uses talent, discipline and an open connection to something larger than themselves to create their work, which gives pleasure. Any endeavor humans undertake is fraught with challenges. But people keep having babies, and children continue to go to school. Artists continue to follow their muses and create. People still start businesses, volunteer, or work for good causes. Life goes on and society progresses. The reason we continue to strive is because we see the benefits of the effort.

So, I propose for those of us who can, let’s make the effort to stop being cynical and pessimistic about the future. I don’t mean that we should ignore the problems we face. What I propose is that we look at the problems in a new way. What if, when faced with a challenge, we said to ourselves, “There is a solution to this and I can find it.”

So, going back to my generation’s relationship with our children, what if we trusted them? What if we remembered what it was like to face the condemnation of our parents and grandparents and refused to do that to our children and grandchildren? We Baby Boomers are rabble rousers. Let’s continue to be rabble rousers and strive to understand and support our children as they make their contributions to society. After all they came into the world we built for them. We have to take responsibility for that.

My generation has done some pretty amazing things. I trust the generations coming along to do even more astonishing things that will help make this world a better place in which to live. In fact they already are.

And, since I’m not ready to give up making my contributions to society, I’m going to stop concentrating on the ills, and look for all the good things that are happening. When enough of us do that, who knows what great things we’ll create.

© Lucinda Sage-Midgorden
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