‘Compassion and empathy, without experience, is like offering a recipe to a starving person. Experience turns it into a meal.’
A hour before an appointment, I decided to lay this thought in contemplation where answers marinade in Love.
I headed for a nearby trail of sculptures where art nestles in nature. Once on the path I began reading titles, trying to understand the artistic intent. What made one artist place a bed in the clutch of bushes? Leaves and twigs adorned the disarrayed covers and skewed pillows. Did a boulder, hanging precariously from limbs in a network of lines, satisfy a longing for balance? Who was the artist who created a metal tree, freshly sawed and fallen? He perched two tiny human figures on the rusting stump, highlighting the size of massive cedars destroyed through decades of ignorance.
My feelings rose from my experiences with these subjects.
Coming out of the forest and walking towards a field, I scolded myself for neglecting my intent. Compassion and empathy had been overridden by art.
Suddenly, two sculptures appeared in that open field. There stood my theme. Two tall, sleek figures – surely compassion and empathy – invited my quieting. Two silent figures instantly symbolized all those who have shared their experiences and shaped my soul with chiseled love.
As I approached the sculptures, viewing them from all angles, my thoughts went to a cherished friend who recently took a stand against subtle and consistent wounding of her heart.
She had called saying she needed a walk. With each kilometer, her heart spilled more truth. She let out her longing for genuine love. She described the sadness of watching her partner’s deeds negate words expressing loving kindness. She fought tears through descriptions of betrayal.
Compassion and empathy flowed easily. I was hearing my story. She described feelings I had felt in the past.
Without effort, I remembered words I had uttered years before, “I know his rages won’t kill me, but what is this relationship doing to my soul?”
Hungry for an answer to my question, I was led to the appropriate people.
Two experienced women possessing strong backs and soft fronts listened as I shared my question, finally speaking my feelings. Compassion pooled in their eyes. They validated my strength and independence with their stories. They listened to my disgust over placing myself in an abusive situation. Their recovery began the same way.
They promised me I would eventually burn the whips of self-flagellation.
The respect and understanding that came from their experience wrapped me in willingness. Their strength fired my resolve to leave the relationship.
I went home and packed.
The sculptures transitioned from being other people into symbolizing my friend and me. As I studied the strength of their lines, the depth forged by shadows and the weathering of natural wood, I saw how these are principles passed from one human to another. It was time for my friend to muster courage, make decisions and carve the life she wants her offspring to see and emulate.
Acid rain, burning sunlight, and varying temperatures have layered a patina on two graceful pieces of art.
Life layers ours.
Our experience creates the substance that others need to nourish themselves. Our experience offers a hand they may grasp. They are not alone. They are heard.
In compassion and empathy, our words may be a recipe. However, when we add experience, we make a meal.
Substance is sustenance.
Addendum: November 4, 2011: I have now secured the name of the creator of these two figures as well as the Gallery that has loaned them to Hastings House. Made with Red Cedar, “Man and New Woman” by artist, Michael Dennis, http://www.mdennissculpture.com/index.html or http://duthiegallery.com/artists/michael-dennis/.