Our Own Oxygen Mask
Since childhood - I have been affected by a wash of panic when I hear sirens. Yet I know that what those in the ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars (front or back!) need most - are thoughts of compassion. So when I had my twin daughters and saw that they too were overwhelmed by sirens, I began to say Courage, courage!! and intentionally taught them to send compassionate energy. It is no surprise then, I suppose ,that the one I wear says courage :) and that I always have others ready because most often it is an unexpected soul that needs your messages.
This story - however - is that of a close friend.
In my work (in clinic, the ER, and the labor and birth center) it is so incredibly important to be sensitive to the needs of others. We know, for example, that the simple act of true eye contact can decrease pain levels and ease trauma victims back to control. When I do relief work in some of the most devastated places in the world - the simplest act of caring can change a life forever... and people seem to get that. But, honestly, everywhere you look - people need love - and this we forget. It does not require an emergency to find it. It does not require a plane trip. But, to find sensitivity to such compassion in others is not always easy, because we do not advertise such vulnerability.
Somehow, one such soul walked into my life a year ago. The very first reaction I had when we met was that he had the kindest of eyes. Our connection, and most things about him, are deep and complicated and perhaps still evolving. Over and over he has been involved in human projects he has fully poured his heart into, the way he does when he writes a song. He has no idea what doing something half-way would even look like.
And naturally the results are amazing. He connects profoundly with people and easily motivates people to help him aid others. What he is perhaps less good at, is caring for himself.
He has recently started an organization that promotes projects of compassion, which, I love of course. It is called The Humanekind Project and it is a beautiful thing. It developed out of the simplest of ideas of the type that we should all be reacting to: in this case - homeless people and cold weather. Yes, they have a need for warm clothes and warm fluids and, yes, he is providing those. But in the end, what differs about this project is how these things are delivered.
I say this, not just because he is a struggling single dad, on his one day off, with his 5 year old in tow. But because it is so very hard to ask for help. Sometimes, it is even harder to know what you need. Now imagine this while being homeless. This then requires someone who figures out what you need for you. Winters warmers has done this. It is unique not in it's mission to deliver blankets and coffee and clothes, but in the fact that it's primary mission is to listen and love. Conversations and stories shared are from the most mundane to the most soul searching. And as one can imagine, it's all at once messy and magical, deeply fulfilling, and draining on every level.
I am on the other side of the world as my dear friend drives to see his family, after spending Christmas on the streets of Denver with those who needed him most. He has two keys (well one lock actually) to open today - one for Courage and one for Strength. I hope he will keep one to remind him, not only of our compassion connection, but because people like us may tend to forget to put on our own oxygen mask, before (or at least while,) assisting others. And if he simply can't help himself, I still have "breathe" in my back pocket.