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Making a Difference

Jessica, my paternal grandmother was a wonderfully wise and courageous woman. When her daughter got together with a divorced man, my grandfather who was fiercely and rigidly religious, forbade both her and their children to have anything to do with her, as she had sinned before God. Jessica′s response which I love, was to say ‘thank God I don′t belong to your religion’. She then packed a basket of goodies and took herself off to spend time with them.

I was very moved to read the letter of Alex, the six year old boy who wrote, ‘Dear President Obana, remember the six year old boy who was picked up by the ambulance in Syria? Can you please go get him and bring him to (my home). Park in the driveway, or on the street and we will be waiting for you guys with flags, flowers and balloons. We will give him a family and he will be our brother’

I wonder why it is that while Alex and my grandmother who was in her 60′s at the time, could see with the clear eyes of the heart, whereas so many of us have lost this capacity?

I was taking a retreat at Spirit Rock with Jack Kornfield a few years ago. At the end of the retreat, I said to him, ′how is it possible to live with equanimity, when there is so much ongoing cruelty and suffering in the world? How can we ever contribute enough to make a difference?′ He looked at me as though he′d been asked this question many, many times before, and said ′Jessica, sort yourself out, and then whatever you contribute will be enough.′ It wasn′t the answer I was hoping for, but in retrospect, I believe it′s the only one that will work for us, both personally and globally.

Albert Camus writes ′we all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes, our ravages. Our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to transform them within ourselves.′ I do believe that whatever we hate out there, is a mirror for some hidden aspect of our self, which we then ′unleash on the world,′ in the form of fear, prejudice and hatred, causing ongoing profound suffering for both ourselves and others.

To break these patterns, we need to have the courage to face our own fear and greed and turn them into compassion, as Jack Kornfield would say, ‘sort ourselves out.’ When we do this, we can then have the resources to look beneath our superficial differences, and see that we are all connected in our humanity. We may then understand the profound Ojibway Indian proverb that ‘no tree has branches so foolish, as to fight amongst themselves.’

So I love that my grandmother who was born in the 19th Century, was able to see her daughter through the eyes of love rather than through fear and adherence to the rigid beliefs of her husband. His attitude to his daughter was harsh, judging and totally at odds with the essence of loving kindness in Christian teachings. Sadly, my grandfather like so many of us today, subscribe to these principles, but are unable to put them into practice.

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