The week following the storm that took out much of Auckland’s power, I was catching up with a friend. We stood outside, enjoying the return of the sunshine, drinking coffee among the scattered branches and watching her small flock of chickens that dotted the lawn.
One hen was moving differently to the others, pecking and scratching among the storm debris with a sort of sideways limping hop.
“What happened to her?” I asked
“She was attacked a couple of months ago by a dog.” my friend said. “The owners were very apologetic when they realised what had happened. They offered to buy me a replacement chicken, or at least a few dozen compensatory eggs. I appreciate that they offered, but it really wasn’t about that.”
She then told me how the chicken had spent the last eight weeks living in her bathroom, being hand fed and recuperating slowly from her injuries. She had made almost a full recovery and had taken quite a liking to perching overnight on the heated towel rail. She had only recently re-joined the little flock in the garden.
“Because I didn’t want a replacement.” she said simply. “That chicken deserved a chance and it was something I could do for her.”
We watched as the chicken enthusiastically turned over a pile of leaves, making a contented tuk tuk sound as she kicked clouds of dirt into the sunshine.
“She hasn’t laid an egg since it happened,” she said. “But it’s ok. I’m just glad to see her back to her old self.”
Compassion is this. A simple gesture of kindness from one being to another. An action that says, you matter, and I am here to help. Without expectation and with love. I see you, I respect you and I want what is best for you.
Acts of compassion in our lives are generally not the ones that clamour for attention. They are rarely sexy or glamourous, yet they quietly touch us in ways that can be profoundly healing. When I look back now through the stories of my own (de)formative years, I see that so often, those times when I was treated with kindness and understanding in difficult situations are remembered now in a completely different light to the ones where I felt I was not. The memories of so many of my hardest life lessons have been softened by acts of compassion.
At this point in my life, my world is shared with tiny humans. And those tiny humans have taught me a whole lot about compassion, this time from the other side. And in the process of learning to support them in every which way as they begin to navigate their lives, I have begun to see a ripple effect in the way I now relate to others. To other parents, other adults, other humans. Because parenting can be hard. Wonderful and beautiful and all the rest, but also relentless and lonely at times. And adulting in general is hard, no matter what it is that fills your days and fills your heart. And we are all doing the best we can with what we have. Sometimes we have no idea what we are doing. And that’s ok too.
And sometimes, all it takes to be able face another day or another sleepless night, is for someone to recognise that. Someone who is willing to meet you there. Where you are, as you are. Preferably with coffee.
My smallest is four years old.
His kindergarten teachers are, hands down, some of the kindest individuals I have ever met. I am dreading the day he graduates because it is very likely that I will be that embarrassing sobbing mess of a parent. Compassion at his kindy is a big deal. It is entrenched in their philosophy and underpins so much of their interaction.
Have we all washed our hands?
Have we had a drink?
Are we all ok?
Sit down, look around you. Is anyone looking sad?
What could we say?
What can we do?
How can we help.
And they seem to get it, at three and four years old. It’s important, it’s central and it really matters. Stapled to the wall in the entrance is a paper waka. It is filled with large and small crayon self-portraits of the children. Huge heads and stick limbs, meticulously drawn eyelashes and dinosaur teeth – preschool art at its finest.
We are all in the same waka, the sign says.
And we are. We are all in this together, on our spinning speck of green and blue. And in all the ways we differ, we are still the same.
Compassion is honouring this.
In an open hearted gesture, a kind word, a cup of tea in the sunshine.
In holding non-judgemental space for a friend when they need to vent, and allowing the same for yourself.
It’s showing up when you know you are needed.
It’s sitting down with another adult and laughing about all the ridiculous things in life that will never make the Facebook highlight reel.
Compassion is not beating yourself up for falling short of your own expectations.
It’s giving ourselves and each other permission to be human.
Compassion is rehabilitating a chicken in your bathroom.