When I was a child, summer days were long and lazy. They began early when we tumbled out the porch door: racing to the swing set, leaping up to grab the lowest branch on the black walnut tree, and squealing as we dashed in and out of the water sprinkler. We also had chores: making our beds, sweeping the floors and dusting the furniture, weeding the garden and hanging wet laundry on the clothesline to dry in the hot summer breezes. There was no need for sleep-away camp: we pitched tents in the yard, hiked in the back lot down by the creek, and acted in plays we wrote atop a flatbed wagon moored under an oak tree.
And when we wore ourselves out, we flopped on the grass and tried to make sense out of the clouds. We told each other stories and reflected upon our existence. Who has time to reflect any more? Who even takes a vacation? According to a report by the Center for Economic Policy and Research, the United States is the only advanced economy that doesn’t require employers to provide paid vacation time. Nearly a quarter of all Americans receive no vacation or paid holidays, trailing far behind the rest of the world. And when we do manage to drag our sorry selves out of town, we take our technology with us, arguing that if we don’t keep up with our work there will be an ominous backlog awaiting our return.
In other words, we are always plugged in and turned on. There is never a dull moment in our lives, no time to process what is happening, and no opportunity to reflect.
Perhaps the only time that we reflect as a community is during vigils, of which there are, tragically, too many these days. As I write this, I think about the two vigils I will attend later today: one as a chaplain at New York University, the other as a neighbor in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Last night a vigil was held in front of the Stonewall Inn, birthplace of the gay rights movement.
I wear a shirt bearing the words “LOVE conquers HATE,” because I want to believe that this is true, in spite of overwhelming contradictory evidence. I want to hold fast to a faith in the goodness of humanity. I want to be in the company of people who share that faith.
But it is so hard. We have gathered too many times and held too many memorials. We have held one another close to cry and to comfort. And we have railed against the moneyed interests that continue to supply the weapons that wreak this havoc.
Hate and fear, fueled by prejudice nurtured in religious, political and ideological communities, are armed to the teeth. How can compassion compete? And yet we must try.
I carry with me, at all times, a Tonglen practice written by Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. Today I took it out and read: “In order to have compassion for others, we have to have compassion for ourselves. . . To have compassion means not to run from the pain of finding hatred and fear in ourselves.”
I traveled back to the summer days of my childhood innocence to reconnect with who I was then. I was lucky to have been given that time and space. Others have not been; they have suffered in ways I cannot imagine. Some recovered; many have not. Take time this summer to reflect upon that reality. Reconnect with who you are and find compassion for yourself so that you can share it with the world.