The seed of inspiration for Everything Compassion was a gift from a tiny teacher – a ruby-throated hummingbird, about 12 years ago. I was 4 months pregnant with my daughter at the time and half way through a 10 day, silent Vipassana meditation retreat.
One afternoon on my way to the meditation hall I noticed a rustling on the ground. I walked over to investigate. There, to my surprise was a little hummingbird covered in cobwebs, struggling to fly.
I looked up. Above was a small roof overhang connecting two buildings and a skylight window, draped in cobwebs. It was clear that it had tried to fly up through the skylight glass, and instead got caught in the webs before falling to the ground.
I bent down to take a closer look and gently scooped it into my hand. It sat in the heart of my palm as I gently swept away the debris stuck on its wings and carried it over to a flower garden, near the edge of the forest where the early afternoon sun shone hot and bright. Sparkling, it ruffled its iridescent feathers, and in what seemed like a flash, flew up and over the trees toward the sun. Free again.
As I continued my walk over to the meditation hall I couldn’t stop thinking about what had just happened – a surreal encounter. I thought about how we are all, at times, just like this hummingbird. Who hasn’t been on their way somewhere, trying to do something with the best of intentions, and somehow, due to choices or the circumstances life challenges us with, we end up on the ground, knocked off our balance – struggling to fly.
At the end of the retreat, my roommate asked if she could talk to me. Although I had never spoken to her before, our shared, silent encounter finding and helping the hummingbird had fostered a bond between us. What she proceeded to share with me that day, and the implications of it, touched me deeply and have lingered with me since.
She told me about her daughter who married and had children with a man she didn’t approve of because of his religion. After the marriage, she disowned her daughter and never saw her again. After several years of estrangement her daughter’s marriage was in trouble, and her daughter became depressed. She never reached out to her daughter to offer help, and her daughter never reached out to ask for help. Her daughter ended her life – jumping off a bridge to her death.
She wondered if her daughter might still be alive if she had not turned away from her. If she had been there to help her. She wept to me, filled with the deepest pain and regret. Speechless, I listened, and gave her a hug. My heart hurt for her. Here was my roommate, not unlike the hummingbird we had found together, days earlier.
When I got home from the retreat, I felt compelled to create something focused on compassion in light of the insight I had with the hummingbird and the grief and heartbreak my roommate entrusted me with. I wanted to create something that would focus on multiplying compassion in our world. It occurred to me that suffering is a shared, universal experience, and as such, so must be the antidote – to take action in the face of suffering with ‘compassion’. The idea for Everything Compassion was pre-natal at this point and not fully formed yet, not unlike my unborn daughter at the time.
After a few months, my husband and I became focused on helping my brother who was in crisis, as I got ready to give birth to our daughter. Six and a half years later my daughter started grade 1 and on a day a few weeks later, in a flash, my husband suddenly died. I remember it was the day he gave my daughter the first of what was to be a series of lessons on how to tie the laces on her new, big kid sneakers. My last living interaction with him was a text I received that afternoon while in a meeting at work. He texted about feeling short of breath and that I should come home right away. When I got home it was too late. He died at the hospital of heart failure, a few hours later.
There are no words that adequately describe the pain of suddenly, without warning, losing him and then the horrific experience of having to tell my daughter that her Daddy died. For many years I couldn’t face the memory of what happened that day. It has been suffering that at times numbed me, and at other times was a passage way into a frightening depth of sorrow and desire for self-destruction.
And yet in my darkest moments of suffering the weeks and months after losing him, I was saved by others… by compassion. Friends, acquaintances, family, colleagues and even strangers brought us food everyday. A community fundraiser was organized to help with the unexpected costs. We were never alone, for almost a year.
Thanks to the compassion of others we were able to fly again, like the hummingbird.
My daughter Sophia and me taking a break from hiking. Havasupai, Arizona – 2019