on the occasional frustration of unwanted compassion

A conversation with my friend Ray which included the phrase “my goddamned metalhead neighbors” has lead me to the recent revelation that we may be the Wu-Tang neighbors. It isn’t as though this is a constant thing, but if I’m going to be leaving the house before 10 am I need a little something to get me moving, and lately, that seems to be what gets me lifted. We’ve just put fans in the windows, and hearing anything over the shower takes a little extra volume, so there you go: get it, tiny house, and probably a couple neighbors, too. Sam finds this choice infinitely amusing, as my musical taste seems to run from either bluegrass/ folk/ blues to mid-90s/ early 2000s rap with very little in-between lately, but I feel it’s a continuum. All that aside, my neighbors are still very friendly, so either they’re super into ODB and Method Man at daybreak or they can’t find any damns to give. It’s all good by me; I don’t want to be a jerk, ever, but I need to get my day started somehow, too, and I’m too old to rely on caffeine alone.

I’ve been dragging a lot this week; I spent the latter half of last week in Baltimore, and not by design. It’s a story, but the long and short of it is that I found myself needing to deal with one of Z’s original parents, which is always a trying situation. I’m always a little stumped when I try to explain our relationship with Z and his family, such as it is. Z came to us when he was about 16 when he was living with his mother and step-father. It was an abusive situation- something Kiddo and we witnessed, unfortunately- and after a brief stay with family friends he came to live with us after my brother-in-law left our spare room. (Thinking on it, we’ve been a soft landing space for a couple folks. I hadn’t noticed that pattern, but I like it.) We initially worried over the legality of informally taking on a foster kid, but it turns out that if the original parents don’t give a shit, it’s pretty uncomplicated.

Z’s a great kid- a legitimately wonderful, talented, sweet, shy person- and he’s come through an utterly bullshit home situation with humor and strength. The only stress that came into our lives when we incorporated him into our family came when dealing with members of his immediate family, in the rare instances that they appeared. In this case, there were some belongings that had been left with Z’s bio-dad in Baltimore, and the agreement was that they could remain there until the end of the year. Then a cousin moved in, and suddenly, things needed to be out by the end of the month- no warning, and the Kids are on the West Coast, so hey, figure it out.

The Kids contacted Z’s mother, who- and I wish I were exaggerating in any way- swiftly texted back, “LOL, guess you’re getting new things.”

It’s funny: I know, from intimate-but-a-little-over-twenty-year-old-knowledge, that people, that families, can be this way. I’ve spent years studying the ways in which families can be dysfunctional, talking to other adult kids from fucked-up families, I’ve done 13+ years in therapy (not to mention as a kid). I’ve spent so much time trying to understand this behavior. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is nothing less exceptional than a dysfunctional family: the details of the dysfunction will differ, the specific needs being exposed and the sicknesses being acted out will all have slightly different colors, but the roles and functions are mind-numbingly repetitive from situation to situation, and each groups’ insistence on remaining in lockstep (and how that function is performed) is just boring as fuck.

And yet, it seems like every time I run into dysfunction in real life, I’m still shocked by it: how ugly it is, how shortsighted, illogical and foreign it looks to me. Sam (and my old therapist from Baltimore, a mini version of whom I keep in the back of my head) tells me it’s because we don’t spend time with people who treat others like that anymore, and I suppose there’s truth to that- we don’t even hang out with people who make mean jokes about people, so yeah, okay, that sounds true, but it doesn’t always feel true, if you know what I mean. I think it’s also just not natural- that it’s the behavior of people who are unhappy, afraid, sad, and sick.

Anyway, the Kids told us what was up, I talked to some of my Maryland people, and they worked out some storage. A bunch of people volunteered to help, most couldn’t get off work or find childcare that quickly (seriously, we rallied logistics in a matter of a couple days) and I emptied the Jeep and headed down. I met my friend Christina at her friend Susan’s place, where they were training service dogs. (Somehow, I almost always get to spend time with new animal friends on my trips.) Chris already had a migraine starting, which was terrible, but she wanted to do the thing regardless. Susan, who I’d never met before, but now love to pieces, volunteered to come help move boxes on the first truly crap day in the city- it was that 100-degree May day, natch, and humid-humid-humid, because Baltimore.

So there we were, hauling moving boxes out of a Baltimore row home in Patterson Park. The place was barely lit, had zero climate control; the upstairs was well over 100 degrees. Z’s bio-dad might as well have been furniture; he let us in, mumbled and gestured at a stack of boxes upstairs and a stack of boxes downstairs, and sat on the couch. Occasionally, he wandered outside and watched us move things from the sidewalk. We acted accordingly; Christina especially, particularly once she began vomiting. She was wearing a white tank top, shorts, boots, is completely unshaven, wears a magenta and purple mohawk, and hauled boxes between bouts of puking like the punk rock goddess that she is, completely ignoring Rogeto, Z’s bio-dad, who turned to Susan and said, “I would help, but I have diabetes, and my ankle hurts.”

Without missing a beat, Susan comes back, “I have diabetes, and fibromyalgia, too. I also had this knee replaced this winter.”

“But does your ankle hurt?” Rogeto asked her.

“My everything hurts, sir,” Susan replied, picking up a box and heading out to Christina’s car. (Susan, we hardly know one another, but you are my new bestie.)

I wish I could say that I acted with kindness or grace here. I didn’t go out of my way to be cruel or to push a confrontation: nothing happened, there was no blowout, nothing like that at all. It was all civil, but that was the best I could muster, and I’m somewhat disappointed in that. I found myself muddled in conflicting emotions throughout the experience: deep anger- naturally, I think- that this was happening to Z (and also Christina, and Susan- again, these dreadful people couldn’t be bothered to lift a finger, even as they were finally getting rid of their child for good, goddamn them), and also this horrible compassion for Rogeto, Z’s good-for-absolutely-nothing parent. There’s no way a person gets to that place and feels any kind of good about themselves or their life, and I can’t think he felt anything but horrible in that particular moment. And then I felt resentment, too, toward Rogeto, as though he were responsible for my feeling compassion for him (I am responsible for my own fucking feelings, this last one was just ridiculous). It’s tough. There are competing thoughts: “Doesn’t that emotional energy belong to the injured party?” “Everyone deserves compassion,” “Where is the line?”, “We are all born pure,” “Anybody can redeem themselves,” “So why hasn’t this person the work?”, “Nobody gets jacked up by themselves,” “Forgiveness isn’t permission,” “Everybody has value,” etc, etc, etc. I’m still not sure what I think.

There’s no way a person gets to that place and feels any kind of good about themselves or their life, and I can’t think he felt anything but horrible in that particular moment. And then I felt resentment, too, toward Rogeto, as though he were responsible for my feeling compassion for him (I am responsible for my own fucking feelings, this last one was just ridiculous). It’s tough. There are competing thoughts: “Doesn’t that emotional energy belong to the injured party?” “Everyone deserves compassion,” “Where is the line?”, “We are all born pure,” “Anybody can redeem themselves,” “So why hasn’t this person the work?”, “Nobody gets jacked up by themselves,” “Forgiveness isn’t permission,” “Everybody has value,” etc, etc, etc. I’m still not sure what I think.

It was a mess, internally, and I’m still sorting it out: I’ve been dealing with a lot of similar feelings about most of the people who challenge me recently (what’s UP, 45), and I’m pretty certain that isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

Doing the Baltimore & back thing in three days is a bit much, and I’m still getting my groove back, but I’m grateful for the time that the long drives gave me to get some things straight in my head. Of course, if I hadn’t had that experience, I might have less I needed to suss out, but here I am, with more metta work to do (and feeling a little funny about where metta has taken me, but that’s another conversation for another 1500+ words).

During the drive I gave Chris Gethard‘s Beautiful/ Anonymous podcast a listen and I am just in love with it- highly recommended, especially if you have a major knitting project or long drive ahead. Each episode is a little over an hour and involves comedian Gethard taking one anonymous caller on the air and talking about whatever they want to discuss, which sounds like it might get tedious, but is really funny, sad, and sweet.

BTW, going back to major knitting projects, I’m off to dye up more sock blanks- they’re destined for Craftsy, so I can’t show them to you right now, but I will after the class airs, of course. They’re a blast to work with and if you’re dyeing, give them a shot, seriously. It’s a different approach to the art and thoroughly enjoyable in a completely different way- more like painting. Plus, Sam is making steak for dinner tonight and I want to be downstairs to smell everything as he makes it; anticipation is one of the best parts of cooking. Here’s hoping that you’ve got a comforting, safe evening planned too, wherever you are.

 

 

 

  One thought on “on the occasional frustration of unwanted compassion

  1. May 24, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    People can be such jerks. But you guys proved that people can also be angels.

    • May 25, 2017 at 1:45 pm

      Awww, Tan. Thank you. That’s very kind, but I don’t feel terribly angelic, especially with all the conflicted emotions I’ve had lately- I’ve had a case of the mean reds over this for the last week. But we’re good at loving people, and I’m happy about that.

  2. May 24, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    Oh my, I will need to read this a few more times, but thank you for sharing, and thank you for adding grace to the world.

    • May 25, 2017 at 1:42 pm

      Thanks so much, Rose. It didn’t help that either WP, my word processing software, or me (almost certainly me) doubled up on a paragraph in there (fixed now, but AUGH) but thanks for sticking with that sort of meandering narrative to get to the sticky part of working on messy feelings. I’m not sure quite how gracefully I- or anybody, really- am managing it, but I appreciate that. ❤

  3. Nancye
    May 25, 2017 at 7:39 am

    Please, please know you can call in me if you are in that kind of bind again. I’d be more than happy to help.

    Love that you share the workings of your brain. I go through the same thing. Annoyed. Compassion. Irritated. Understanding. It’s hard to find that peaceful place in the moment.

    • May 25, 2017 at 1:49 pm

      Oh lady, I totally didn’t even think to call you, but of course- The Chartreuse Beast! With y’all in the D.C. metro it didn’t occur to me (as though it’s a different world, how ridiculous).

      It’s always a little scary showing my internal processes, especially the ugly ones, like resisting compassion (despite working on making that my default for years). I like to think that if everybody were more able to expose and talk about their flaws, screw-ups, and questions, we might be in a better place overall, maybe?

  4. amyfibre
    May 25, 2017 at 10:27 am

    Thank you for letting me peek into your internal mess….all those conflicting feelings. Just the way my insides feel so often. I appreciate your honesty and generosity of spirit. Your writing is both comforting (ah, someone else is here too) and profoundly inspiring. Thank you for being you.

    • May 25, 2017 at 1:50 pm

      Oh, hey, thanks a lot, Amy- and right back at you, thanks for commenting. It’s scary to put a lot of this out there sometimes- writing about resisting compassion isn’t very pretty, so it’s good to hear voices back from the ether. ❤ Thanks for talking back.

  5. May 27, 2017 at 9:00 am

    We were so happy to help you out. I hope you get some calm soon. Love you dearly.

    • May 30, 2017 at 10:08 am

      You are the very best kind of people, lady. I heart your face, sincerely.

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