Compassion, as defined in this post by Dacher Keltner, literally means “to suffer together.” It is the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering. You want to take action and help. But if you are not near physically the help you can provide is limited. Compassion has been my emotional state for the last month. The aftermath of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and the earthquakes in Mexico have been very hard on me. I have friends and family in many of the places affected by these natural disasters and it is so difficult to be far away when so many of them are suffering. I can advocate, donate and mobilize in support of emergency relieve. I can reach out via social media, phone, and email offering emotional and empathic support. But I am not there physically to help and struggle with them.
When I am struggling and losing hope, I read poems. Here are three poems written by women that helped me in the past weeks and provide solace when I feel helpless.
“Still I Rise” by MAYA ANGELOU
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
“To Be A Woman” by Alice Walker
To be a woman
Does not mean
Nor is she
Biding her time;
“Abeyance” by Rebecca Foust
letter to my transgender daughter
I made soup tonight, with cabbage, chard
and thyme picked outside our back door.
For this moment the room is warm and light,
and I can presume you safe somewhere.
I know the night lives inside you. I know grave,
sad errors were made, dividing you, and hiding
you from you inside. I know a girl like you
was knifed last week, another set aflame.
I know I lack the words, or all the words I say
are wrong. I know I’ll call and you won’t answer,
and still I’ll call. I want to tell you
you were loved with all I had, recklessly,
and with abandon, loved the way the cabbage
in my garden near-inverts itself, splayed
to catch each last ray of sun. And how
the feeling furling-in only makes the heart
more dense and green. Tonight it seems like
something one could bear.
Compassion is a key value that supports the mission of Strong Women Action Network. We understand there is lots of suffering from structural, systemic and societal dynamics that make it hard for women to take action and help themselves. We are here with compassion to help you move into action. That is why we do regional and state retreats that provide safe and supportive spaces for women to develop personal and professional goals and plans followed by access to a network of support within state geographies that provide opportunities to develop relationships and increase power. Click here for more information. You are not alone in your life’s journey.