A man approached a woman near a well and asked her for a drink. In her country, strange men don’t talk to women they don’t know—it would bring them both shame. She quickly assumed the moral high ground and said to him, “How dare you ask me, I am a married woman.” He then cut her to the quick and said, “You’ve been married three times, and the man you live with now isn’t even your husband.” She then ran into the town telling everyone of the man who, “Knew everything I ever did.”

I always liked this story as a kid and begged the universe for this perceptive eye…perhaps power. I wished to be able to cut through all the bull crap that people put out, all the masks, and all the charades. I wished to be able to communicate with people on a deep level—both of us standing naked before each other…pure raw honesty.

I didn’t anticipate the opposite side of that affair. That by knowing other people’s sordid histories, you would also adopt their tales as your own. It is by the very virtue of empathy that others lives are perceived, and it is that same empathy which forces me to feel what they have felt. So much sorrow, hurt, and pain at times, and joy, happiness, and peace at others.

Sometimes however I’m oblivious. My high school girlfriend was sexually abused by her step father for 9 years. Trusting me, she honored me by allowing me to be one of the first people she ever told. Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t get it, I didn’t understand. Know that I understand, I wish I could go back and do more for her…I wish I could have been better to her.

I think it is empathy and compassion that made me a good coach. I was proficient at the “mind game” element of the sport. I could empathize with a ten year olds fears, and therefore able to share some compassion. I’ve traveled all over the world and have met a lot of people. I’ve studied them and watched them, and looked for patterns. If you see the same behavior over and over, you begin to put the pieces together. Similar to the Sherlock Holmes played by Robert Downey Jr., I’ve learned to pay attention to the little things. Training in the arts doesn’t hurt this either, everything about it teaches you to take notice.

A girlfriend once commented, “Having an artist as a boyfriend is a double-edged sword, they notice everything…but they also notice everything. They are quick to notice when the sunlight is striking your face and the light catching your eyes, but they also notice your flaws, even if they go unmentioned.”

As I go, and I attempt to report on the compassion I see others displaying and giving in the community, I also notice those unto whom it seems little compassion has been shown. It is easy to love those who love you back. It harder to be the one to initiate the love where the tracks of which have never been drawn, but so rewarding once you do so even if it isn’t requited.

I met two women recently who were working in the food service industry here on Hwy 1. They have been hardened by the long hours spent on their feet, the insensitive comments overheard, and cruel joke of paychecks that fail to deliver as promised. These two women carried the scars of their lives about them, on their person, and in their faces. They were there for the reading…if anyone took the time…if anyone cared.

Sometimes the scars we carry are obvious. One woman had to come to work with a black-eye. It is just as probable that she was hit accidentally with a doorknob as by a spouse. But either way, she had to come to work. Her co-workers of course would ask, but either way, the doorknob story was the one that was told…true or not. But, the harder part for this woman was knowing that everyone one she served that day would be thinking, “It wasn’t an accident.”

The other woman I met was working to make ends meet. I overheard her say to some customers, “That is why I get here at 5am…for you.” Those simple words were almost a plea, not for a bigger tip, but for just a moment of recognition. Recognition that she was the only hostess, server, and busser working, recognition that the food was brought hot and the coffee kept warm, and recognition that she did it all with the best smile her tired feet and aching back could afford. A tip would be nice, but the realization, recognition, or at least appreciation that she did this not because she had to, but she did it because it is who she is.

 

I noticed both these women like Jesus noticed the woman at the well. I saw them despite their masks, and I loved them. How could I not, they are my sisters, my mothers, and my daughters. But more than that, I had empathy for their plights. I did for them what I was able. I gave them each a painting, expecting nothing in return. I loved them.

I also met men like Yuri and Ian above who are cycling the west coast. I met men and women like Kelly and Emily for Tennessee who have been teaching in Alaska for the last couple of years because they wanted to do what they could do to help with the teacher shortage there. I met Brooke and her husband from Baltimore who invited me to stay with them when I get out that way. I’ve also met Stephan from Germany who has literally hitch-hiked across the globe, and Amanda who is driving across the country to see it all.

I’ve seen elephant seals enacting scenes out of, “From Here To Eternity”.

I’ve seen beauty around me left and right.

I’ve been lulled to sleep by tranquil beaches.

And I’ve been woken by the creeping light through morning’s dew.

I’ve seen the west and been able to bid the sun adieu.

But still it is the conversations with people that I cherish the most. Last night, just as I lay down to sleep on the ocean’s edge, I was woken by a telemarketer’s call. By her voice, grammar, intonation, and vocabulary I could piece together who she was. She was working in Las Vegas, and trying to enroll me in a time-share. I told her what I was doing on this pilgrimage, my mission, my circumstances, and the joys of my adventures. I chose to talk with her and listen to her pitch even though I fore-warned her I have no money or worldly possessions. I realize that no one is compassionate with telemarketers, I tried to show her love. When she finally realized that I didn’t have any money and wasn’t going to be able to help her— the call ended, but not before I heard her say to a co-worker, “Girl, he homeless.”

That last phrase struck me. It hurt my heart, but I couldn’t figure out why. At first I thought it was my own pride, or perhaps fear that the epitaph she gave me was true. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew it was because I felt so sad for her; I had compassion for her. Her mind was still trapped by the linear thinking of money; $0——$Billions. She judged me still for my things, never understanding that I am rich, because I am happy with what I have. Happier still to give.

On the bottom of each painting I give away I write, “Feel Loved”. I write this because it is already assumed that I do love them. By writing, “Feel loved”, they have to choose what to do with it. Either way they are loved, whether they choose to accept it or not.

Dear friends…Feel loved, for you are by me.

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