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Growing Compassion and Understanding

Growing Compassion and Understanding

We are living in scary times. Terrorism. Extremism. Fundamentalism. Just when it seems we have a moment to take a breath, something else comes flying out of the darkness and explodes in a café, a club, a school, a stadium and airport. Nowhere seems safe and inoculated from threat. Surely the media (both traditional and social) can magnify the threat to duck-and-cover proportions. These are uncertain times. But these are not the first of them.

The recent events in Paris, Beirut and Kenya bring to unnerving clarity our vulnerability. An innocent night out can become a firestorm of terror, fear and death. An unseen enemy in the form of an ideology can rip us from our lives in a moment. It doesn’t matter if we are in the eye of the storm or watching it from thousands of miles away, we share a sense of fear, heartbreak, outrage and retribution. We become confused in the obtuseness of the threat. It may be cold comfort, but these feelings are nothing new. This sense of vulnerability is part of the human condition. It’s a challenge—to be challenged.

I had it for years after my grandmother died and each time it bloomed, I felt a special presence that represented them both.

hoyaA personal family story continues to come to mind as of late with the news of terror attacks, spectacular human migration in the face of the devastation of war and a growing sense of urgency to act mixed with a paralysis fed by being an overwhelmed human. To wit:

In 1957, Canada brought in almost 40,000 Hungarians fleeing the revolution. Now, my grandfather fought in WWII, so he could very well have been helping to bring in people who could possibly have been complicit with enemy forces in eastern Europe during WWII. However, he didn’t think that way and my grandmother and grandfather sponsored a Hungarian family who lived with them, shared a house, and blended two families from very disparate backgrounds and life experiences.

My mother and my aunt were just kids and hadn’t been infected with the fear of the unknown and unusual that inhabits us all as we journey through this life. As a matter of fact, my mother and aunt became friends with this family and played with their children—even though they perceived them as being exotic and at times inscrutable because of language and cultural differences. In the end, all was fine and the Hungarian family was eventually relocated to the prairies.

It’s how we stand in the face of uncertainty and perceived threat that will define who we are…

Fast forward to the early 1970s. My grandparents did it again when they sponsored a young Japanese man who came to Canada to go to school. I wonder if my grandfather was drawing a line between him and emperor Hirohito? Whatever thoughts may have been going on, he thought better. That young man’s name was Nobu and I remember he made an impression on my young life as I found him fascinating and asked him a lot of questions about Japan, the culture, the food and his love of plants and horticulture. It was during this time he gave my grandmother a hoya plant as a way of saying goodbye and to remember him by as he embarked on his next journey through life.

That plant bloomed once every seven years. I took a cutting from that plant and propagated it and grew my own hoya plant, thinking both of Nobu and my beloved grandmother. I had it for years after my grandmother died and each time it bloomed, I felt a special presence that represented them both. In peace and quiet, in green and pinkish tones, I remembered the warmth and humanity of these people, these mentors, who reached across oceans, ideologies and broken histories and found common ground within which to take root and bloom.

Love bring your birds bring your feathers of peace. All through the storm let the tides release.”

hands-reaching-outThat act of human kindness by my grandparents in 1957 helped change lives for decades to come. The Hungarian family’s life; Nobu’s life 15 years later; my grandparents’ lives, my mother and aunt’s lives…and my life. An olive branch—like the branch of a hoya—offered to those in need, can grow for generations.

It’s how we stand in the face of uncertainty and perceived threat that will define who we are and separate us from the dooms of history and the fates of futures. In times of strife, pull your allies close, keep emotions in check, be objective and remember that a breath and well-used moment of clarity can lead to cooler heads and constructive resolution. Yes, we are human. We are flawed. We are scared. But we are ok.

I’ll end on a lyric by my favourite band, Heart. I think it really hits home with how many of us are feeling and hoping. The song is called Lost Angel:

“Love bring your birds bring your feathers of peace. 
All through the storm let the tides release.”

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Andy2 copy 3Andrew Vail’s writing career began in Halifax when he was a child. In Grade 4, he wrote and produced his own series of comic books entitled “Freaky The Frog”, the on-going tale of a little misfit frog and his pals of the pond. Marvel Comics never came knocking but Andrew knew he loved to create and tell stories. Since then, Andrew has worked in advertising, PR and publicity; has interviewed politicians, rock stars and very interesting yet not-so-famous movers and shakers. He has published articles in a variety of local and national magazines and websites. Andrew is currently working on the project queer50.com.


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