Practicing Compassion in our Everyday Lives

A few Saturdays ago we went to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts to see the completed Buddhist sand mandala before it is deconstructed in May. It also happened to be a free day for museum admission and something called Slow Art Day, where you were supposed to take your time to enjoy the displays. We were bumped and jostled about as we stood listening to the story of the mandala a woman asking a million disruptive questions, ranging from where the monks stayed while they were in Nashville to what kind of permit was needed to throw colored sand into the Cumberland River.

The theme of the mandala is “compassion”. Compassion is the response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help them.

As we stood suffering through the endless questions, the people not wanting to wait their turn for a better view, and the guy that actually asked Angie to move, I starting thinking about compassion. The word most often comes to mind when we think of people affected by disasters, starving children in foreign countries, homeless vets living on the streets, and so on, but compassion is actually a lot smaller than that.

Take a look around you right now. Chances are the person next to you is not hungry, homeless, or in physical pain at this very moment but what about the suffering you can’t see? What is that person’s home life like? What burdens are they carrying with them today? For that matter, what burden are you carrying today? Even the happiest people in the world have worries and concerns. Just because we can’t see them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist or deserve any less of our compassion.

To me, compassion is kindness and kindness is something we can practice every day in every single situation with every person we encounter. And it’s not something that needs to be noted.

So often we see posts on social media about random acts of kindness. People point out their own “thoughtful” behavior – buying a cup of coffee for a stranger, returning a wallet dropped on the street, carrying groceries for a neighbor, or taking time to talk to someone on the bus. All of these things are great and in my opinion, this type of thoughtful behavior should be commonplace, not random. We should all make a conscious effort to practice compassion.

Standing there at the mandala, I decided to put these words into action and show kindness to the strangers around me because…

Just like me, these people were at the museum to enjoy the exhibit.

Just like me, they had questions.

Just like me, they wanted to see and learn.

Just like me, they were pursuing happiness. 

And just like me, they need love, understanding, and the freedom to enjoy life on their own terms. 

Despite our differences, we all have a lot in common as human beings. To treat our fellow man with apathy or disrespect is to treat ourselves the same.


A Tally of February’s Food Finds

On February 1st, we went to a Lunch & Learn at the Nashville Public Library on the topic of food waste. Little did we know then just how “involved” we’d become in food recovery over the next 28 days.

When I wrote the post Did I See You in the Dumpster?, we had just learned that the grocery store next door was tossing hundreds of pounds of good food into the garbage each week. Despite our efforts to redirect them to better uses for their unsalable (though not inedible) food, nothing was done, and the dumpster continues to fill daily with slightly blemished or browning produce. And we continue to monitor – and glean – when we can.

To illustrate the problem of food waste in our community, I am posting a list of all the items we recovered in February. Remember, we are one couple, looking in one dumpster of one small grocery store, at a rate of 3-4 times per week, for a period of 28 days. We found:

  • 2 red onions
  • 1 bag green onions
  • 3 yellow onions
  • 3 zucchini squash
  • 3 yellow squash
  • 6 dozen + 3 individual eggs
  • 2 pineapples
  • 2 bags of celery
  • 6 ears of corn
  • 1 bag of baby lettuce (4 small heads)
  • 5 heads of iceberg lettuce
  • 12 oz. bag of organic kale
  • 14 blood oranges
  • 3 pounds of organic oranges + 13 individual oranges
  • 1 pint + 1 – 6 oz. container of blueberries
  • 2 – 6 oz. containers of blackberries
  • 5 pound bag of flour
  • 10 oz. bag of almonds
  • 2 bags + 1 head of broccoli
  • 1 bag of cauliflower
  • 1 loaf of 100% whole wheat bread
  • 6 pounds of Cuties (tangerines)
  • 2 – 10 oz. containers of organic grape tomatoes
  • 12 pounds of apples + 10 individual apples
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 5 cucumbers
  • 6 limes
  • 1/2 pound of asparagus
  • 8 1/2 pounds of bananas
  • 15 pounds of Russet potatoes
  • 5 pounds of yellow potatoes
  • 5 red potatoes
  • 1 1/2 pounds of mixed baby potatoes
  • 1 serving of organic red grapes
  • 5 1/2 quarts of strawberries
  • 2 pounds of organic baby carrots
  • 2 pounds of carrots
  • 6 Anjou pears
  • 4 red pears
  • 1 honeydew melon
  • 11 peaches
  • 1 unopened bottle of hand soap

Needless to say, we had a lot of salads this month!

All joking aside, this was just a fraction of what was sitting in the dumpster – good food going to waste because it’s not quite up to consumer standards. I just can’t for the life of me understand why this food isn’t marked down to quick sale or donated to our local food bank. God knows we have folks in need here! There’s always a line of people waiting outside the food bank every morning to receive a box of non-perishable goods. While that’s great, just think of how many lives could be changed for the better if they also had some of these fresh fruits and veggies in those boxes.

We fed 7 people (including ourselves) with our found foods in February – 3 of whom currently receive SNAP benefits and can’t always afford fresh produce. The highlight of this experiment was seeing a small child pick out a tangerine from the bag we handed her mother and immediately sit down on the sidewalk to eat it. Her face as she enjoyed this fruit that would otherwise have been forgotten was priceless.

I wasn’t sure when we started this adventure just how long we planned to dumpster dive but Angie says that she’ll keep going as long as there’s food; which has prompted to me to think a bit more about how we can help on a larger scale. We’re thinking about starting a food share network in our community – maybe a Facebook group or a Meetup group – where folks can share their found foods or foods they bought but can’t eat in time or extras from their gardens or orchards. I only have to think about my mom’s neighbor and his wasted garden or the hundreds of pounds of pears that he mulched last year to know that an abundance of food exists in our community. Someone just needs to connect it with people who will eat it…and maybe that’s us. At the very least, it is something to seriously think about.