Letters of caring, compassion and connection
Over the past month the Reformer and Compassionate Brattleboro have collected and published letters from Brattleboro area residents about the kindness and connectedness they've been experiencing during this pandemic. This is the fourth and final set of these letters. The Reformer and Compassionate Brattleboro wish to thank the many members of our community who have contributed letters and the many others who have offered encouragement and appreciation.
Over the years I've been bragging to friends elsewhere about Brattleboro, often about its signature events: Gallery Walk and the Strolling of the Heifers. More recently I've been telling them about our town having sister communities in places like Africa and Asia, and the creative efforts of Groundworks. But now I'm telling them about the remarkable compassion reflected, during this pandemic, in these letters (thanks, Reformer, for publishing them) and in the memorable TV program organized by the Guilford Church with commentary by the Town Manager and with photos of our courageous front-line workers. (I've heard that Lise Sparrow, Minister of the Guilford Church may be retiring this year. If yes, what a perfect adieu!)
Many of my conversations with Brattleboro friends in recent weeks have had a common theme:
"I'm hearing that there are blue skies in China, and that folks living in the Andes are seeing the tops of mountains for the first time".
"I've read the pollution and greenhouse gas emissions have fallen dramatically".
"Making people suffer extreme economic and medical hardship is not a solution for climate change, but periods of change can lead to the introduction of lasting habits. Families can take stock of their consumption, and we can be put back to work in ways that are more equitable — and also green."
I so hope that this happens - that we can get one big plus out of so much hardship.
Compassion, like charity, begins at home. Especially now! Compassion for those with whom we are sharing this difficult time - and for ourselves! It's so easy to feel helpless, feel you "should" be doing more. At least these are feelings that come up for me. But we need to be gentle with ourselves--have compassion for our limitations, be non-judgmental of ourselves and others in our life.
In these days when bodies need to be kept distant, connection more than ever is through mind and heart. Perhaps this is one of the silver linings, one of the lessons of all this — that the mind/heart connections are the crux of it. This is where relationship really takes place. I was set to fly to London early this spring where my son, his wife and daughter live. Of course, this plan collapsed. It's almost two years since I've seen my granddaughter. But we've had some lovely moments via Facetime. As every grandparent knows, nothing can replace a good hug, but the mind/heart connection is stronger than ever. Lying in bed at night my mind roams also to Italy where my in-laws are, and to southern California and Boston where two more of my children are.
My daughter-in-law's parents live in southern Italy. Though they seem to be fine, I worry about their future. Perhaps these past months of pandemic will make them — and us — stronger, the way a broken joint becomes stronger through healing, through forging new bone, muscle and cartilage. That is what I hope.
And that the new world we make will be one with an enhanced appreciation for our common needs, with a new perspective on our ability to share a common purpose for the benefit of all, one forged around the values of compassion and connection.
We have been hearing a lot about folks suffering from the "lockdown blues," people finding it so difficult to stay home during this COVID-19 crisis. As a couple that has been essentially homebound for the past two years, we'd like to tell you that it's indeed possible to have a rich and fulfilling life without going out the door.
We spend lots of time emailing with friends from all over the world, most often friends in India, Japan and Turkey. (Dee lived in Turkey for 25 years, Bob for about a dozen). These friends have become like family, and being in such close touch with them is so transporting that we sometimes forget we're sitting at home.
We've also been blessed with two wonderful daughters and now their offspring - including our first great-grandchild about to turn two. (We may have a granddaughter moving in soon upstairs with her dog!) We've learned how to use a smart phone, so we can look at pictures of them all the time.
Happily, we have enough in the way of resources, and so have the luxury of being able to spend time thinking about philanthropies to support. Some of our support goes to church related organizations, including a wonderful school in Turkey, but we've also been able to help Groundworks with its new building.
And there's plenty of time for reading. We're regular readers of The Week magazine as well as the Reformer, and we slip in some mystery novels from time to time. Additionally, Dee keeps busy with physical and occupational therapy, and she sings!
We haven't had to worry about food, receiving regular service from Meals on Wheels. But on the weekends, we continue our long tradition of cooking and enjoying fresh salmon.
So, Friends, worry not. Enormous riches lie within the confines of your homes. Relish them, enjoy them.
Bob and Dee Keller
We're going through a challenging time here in Vermont, and throughout the country and around the world, as we struggle to keep ourselves and others alive and well in the presence of an aggressive and potentially lethal virus.
At the same time, we in Brattleboro are fortunate to have the support of many people who take responsibility for helping to meet our daily needs. I felt very grateful this morning, when I phoned the Brattleboro Food Co-op with a list of groceries: an hour later, my groceries were carefully set into the trunk of my car by a hardworking staff member. We wished each other good health through our masks.
My heart overflows with gratitude for all those in our community who, in many different ways, are continuing to care for the well-being of others even while risking that they themselves might become exposed to this deadly virus. This is compassion in action, and I pray that all of you, including those who work at our Food Co-op, remain safe and well as you reach out to meet the needs of the community.
Yet, along with feeling as grateful as I do, I also ask: How can we show the full extent of our gratitude? The many frontline workers who are absolutely essential to our survival—doctors, nurses, other healthcare workers, grocery store workers, the people who deliver our packages or collect our garbage, and so many others—must also be supported, and in substantial ways. Some of these ways would include the provision of appropriate protective equipment, healthcare coverage, hazardous duty pay, whistleblower protections, etc. Our active insistence that these supports be provided henceforth would be an important — and overdue — way to express our gratitude for the generosity we receive.
During this time of COVID-19 how are we, who are ordered to sequester ourselves in our homes and to self-isolate, supposed to "widen our circle of compassion" (instructed to do so in such situations by no less than Albert Einstein)? The directives seem contradictory. We are told on one hand that the best thing we can do if we are not essential workers, is to "stay at home" and essentially "hunker down." Yet, at the same time, we are instructed by our scriptures, prophets, and philosophers to protect the most marginalized and to aid those in need.
The best solution to these seemingly mutually exclusive directives is to be creative. In this regard, I have been inspired by Groundworks Collaborative's "Camp for a Common Cause 2020" initiative. Groundworks designed this campaign specifically so that might be allowed to sequester ourselves and, at the same time, reach out compassionately!
Teams camped out, often in their front yards or in front of churches (including our Centre Congregational Church) to visibly raise awareness and advocate for the most marginalized in our communities. And Josh Davis as Executive Director hosted a wonderful 'telethon' that rivaled that of any MC'd by Jerry Lewis. I understand Groundworks actually exceeded its fundraising goal.
I also was inspired by the One Community/Home Together Concert initiated by the Guilford Community Church (UCC) which aired on YouTube and our Brattleboro local access television station. Again, the concert creatively allowed all of us to stay safe at home, and yet come together as a community to raise awareness and pay tribute to health care providers and first responders in our community.
Finally, I was inspired by the Brattleboro Area Interfaith Leaders' Alliance Earth Day Interfaith Prayer Service: "Lamentations and Resolve." I was able to worship with others outside, separate, yet together. Our community of Brattleboro has indeed utilized the best of its creativity to enable us — despite extensive restrictions — to come together as a community, to raise awareness, and, in turn, to express the highest forms of compassion. I am so proud to be able to call this my community.
Rev. Scott Couper
I've been very worried not only about people losing their jobs because of the pandemic, but also losing their health insurance. I've heard that nearly 30,000 more Americans might be losing the health insurance that goes with their jobs. I'm sure many in our own community will be affected. Might one of the positive effects of COVID-19 be a renewed insistence on universal health care also making sure it includes dental care? What do others think?
Here's an email I just received from a former graduate student in South Korea:
Dear Jim, The Korean government is now allowing non-medical grade masks to be sent to the U.S. Since you are in an area where masks are scarce and I'm not, I'm sending you some masks. What's your mailing address?
I've been realizing in this COVID time how much time I can spend thinking of myself. My mind can be filled with a rapid shuffling of memories: This was good, that was bad, the other was painful. My mind can get trapped in a merry go round of "woulda, coulda, shoulda." And my mind can spin to the future: Where will I be an hour from now? A week, year, 10 years from now?
But then I wake up to the fact that all this spiral and looping thinking is attached to my ego, all this thinking is about me me me me ME!!
At that point, I can break free and look at a flower, the blossoms coming out on my peach and pear trees, the shoots of my raspberries pushing up out of the rich earth, and realize that the world is not about me. I am rather one spirit in the world. I can disengage from my ego mind. I can look inward and outward and have compassion for everything around me, everyone around me — have compassion even for myself. Compassion, I realize, does not have to do with judgment or guilt or punishment. Being compassionate means loving the inner being of all creatures in and on Mother Earth.
Every other person and every other thing is a physical expression of something that deserves to be here. When I live with that kind of compassion, my existence opens up and relaxes, and each moment, as it unfolds, becomes a joy leading me home to a place of inner peace. That is the design of the Universe and that is something that I want to love and accept, living, moment to moment, within our Infinite Universal whole.
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