by Julie Nadler
When I was living in that Old Lachine neighbourhood, not all my neighbours were helpful or even friendly. One of them had been quite obstructive and tried to stop me from putting an extension on my house. Another kept trash, like a non-functioning old car, in their driveway. A few never responded to my ‘Hello-bonjour’. One teenage son of a newly divorced man, played loud, angry music that you would have to be almost deaf to appreciate. But despite that and despite them, le quartier continued to grow and transform.
When I first saw the anti-lockdown protesters, I felt a strong revulsion for them. I thought to myself that if they get the virus, they will have earned it. I remembered that Hilary had called them ‘a basket of deplorables’. Yes.
But the Buddhist meditator in me, kept insisting that they needed my compassion as much as the victims of the virus. That was a hard one especially after I lost one of my British cousins from the virus. It is hard for all of us as we do what we can to make our fellow humans, all humans, safe and we see those who are working against this/us getting airtime. Compassion is hard.
Those who protest are also victims. They have been lied to by their news providers, employers, and elected officials. They have been given mediocre education, disinterested health care and poor working conditions. Their banks have victimized them. But rather than blame the people who have done this to them they blame the ‘other’.
When I was a volunteer at Chez Doris, after I had been consciously practicing the hard work of compassion for a few months, I realized: “One bad choice when I was 20, one wrong pathway, and this would be me.” A social worker said that was why she had become a social worker. When I look at the protesters…even those who were armed at the Michigan senate, even those who pushed a Texas park ranger into a lake for trying to do his job…I must think the same: I could have been them; I could be them; we share that humanity.
Our world and our lives have become increasingly interdependent, so when our neighbour is harmed, it affects us too. Therefore we have to abandon outdated notions of ‘them’ and ‘us’ and think of our world much more in terms of a great ‘us’, a greater human family.
— Dalai Lama
One of our meditation teachers says, when we are talking about all the emotional, physical and mental pain that comes with being human, “Can I be with it?” What happens to you is not definitive. What does define who you are is how you deal with it. Just as the lock-down protesters seem unable to tolerate the difficult things, the rawness and discomfort, their reactions define them. Some people, we know, cannot be with that, to hold strong in the face of pain and discomfort. They don’s have the inner resources to seek honesty when someone tells them they don’t have to.
So do not give up on them. Change and growth are always possible.
My compassion will not change them, but it may change me and the people in my life. Just like this covid-19 is spread exponentially, so will compassion. If that is hard, it helps to think that we are modelling the behaviour that we wish to see in others.
This is my hope as we move deeper into the unknown. We do not know when & if we will emerge from the era of covid-19. We do not know what our worlds will look like. We do not know who will be running our world. Dystopian thought sees a world where the old, sick and vulnerable will be considered expendable. Another vision sees a caste system of immune and not immune: the ‘herd immunity’ some are espousing. Perhaps I have read too much sci-fi.
When I dwell on the future, I am afraid. Meditating and focusing on the present moment, I see a way to be here and now. Not as a future-denier. The future will come but we cannot predict what it will look like, so we need to focus on the present, be strong and share our strength where and when it is needed.
We are all neighbours. Even those who deny being our neighbours. Even those who see us as the ‘other’. Good neighbours; bad neighbours…all neighbours.
The first part of this blog is available at https://yogaonthepark.ca/we-are-all-neighbours/