Archive for Companis

He lived compassion at life’s end

By Alanna Gunne

Lying in his bed, he listened to the sounds of life.  He could smell the pot roast cooking in the kitchen and hear his housemates moving through the halls.  A movie was playing on his VCR and he was comfortable.  He had not envisioned his life this way.  He loved the beach and the sunshine.  He loved his work and his many friends knew him as a passionate foodie.  Assisted by his pain medications, he often dreamed of those days.  In a way it was a gift because he could live in whichever memory he chose – and he chose the best ones every time.

Chris Hawkins was pretty sure he would not live much longer – although over the years he had entertained this possibility countless times and still – here he was.  Thinking of ‘life’ he sometimes counted off the living that he could no longer accomplish.  First of all, he was blind – so he could no longer watch his beloved movies or see the smiles on his friends’ faces.  His frame was skeletal and he could no longer walk.  His kidneys were shutting down so his ‘big day out’ was going to the clinic for dialysis.  All of his physical and social needs were supported by the staff and volunteers at Rosehedge – his home for 14 years.

Compassion.  That was the word Chris used to describe the lifeblood that kept him going – countless acts of compassion and love.  The house cook stopped by his room regularly to chat and find out what he felt like eating.  They had long foodie talks and had become real pals.  CareTeam volunteers sat with him, sharing movies and conversation.  One older gentleman became his best friend.  With the help of a wheelchair, they would roam the neighborhood.  He would feel the fresh air on his face and listen to the kids as they raced home after school.  The nursing staff loved Chris – in fact, everyone loved him because he was so ready with a smile and encouraging word even when the days were hard to live through.

One evening, he fell asleep listening to a movie.  The nurse came in to see him and realized that he was in crisis.  That night Chris left his body in the local emergency room and was suddenly free of pain and restriction.  Those he left behind mourned.

Chris’ memorial service was held on a sunny afternoon at the church across the street from his home.  His family came from California and Portland; his friends came just as far. His father, who was in the hospital at the time, attended the service via Skype. One of his former house nurses came from Bellingham.  There were house staff, volunteers and housemates – all gathered to honor him, remember his life and support each other in their grief.  His 8-year-old nephew played the violin.  Memories were shared and the healing began.

And as Chris watched this gathering of people who had touched his life, he recognized that he was right all along.  His world was COMPASSION.

 Alanna Gunne is a  Companis Worker placed with Rosehedge/Multifaith Works,  which serves those living HIV/AIDS by providing housing, compassionate health care and supportive services that enhance the quality of their lives.

Why Stories of Compassion Matter

By Gary Davis

Our society is fascinated by entertainers, sports heroes and lawbreakers. Glance at the “most read” list on most any online news site and you’ll find it overwhelmingly populated with articles that are variations on those themes. This isn’t a new trend. But what does it say about the stories we value, or to what we give our precious attention?

“People become the stories they hear and the stories they tell,” writes author and activist Elie Wiesel. We agree.  Since most children don’t grow up to be entertainers or sports heroes, we’re telegraphing to them a dangerous message: fame – and even infamy – is what matters. No wonder, then, as we continue to click on reports of celebrity or crime, money-strapped news organizations continue to feed us an endless supply of those stories. In short, it seems, we get what we “click,” upholding the axiom that whatever we give our attention gets bigger.

In this election year we’re also frequently reminded about our political and social divides. Yes, there are important issues and real divisions, but that’s an old story, and it’s demoralizing. Rather than spurring us to action, our continual political stalemates deflate us into non-action, isolation, and cynicism.

As current and former media professionals, with many years of experience in online, broadcast and print journalism, a group of us have come together in a belief that our community can do better. We see everyday ‘celebrities’ all around us, people whose stories, if told, can bridge divided communities, generate ideas to improve our collective lives, and inspire others to meaningful action.  Such stories can make a difference for a neighbor, a neighborhood, a city or a state. We believe most people are looking for inspiration and solutions from their everyday world, the one to which they belong, where they have a chance to make a positive impact. They are looking for stories that at their heart involve compassion.

So how do we get there? We’ve come up with an idea for a starting point, and it kicks off in mid-September.  “Stories of Compassion” is a storytelling competition for everyone in the greater Seattle region: student and professional journalists, bloggers, nonprofit groups who provide basic needs, businesses engaged in their communities, education projects, interfaith and faith-related outreach, poets, photographers and videographers.  The contest is about strengthening our greater community through the stories we tell about the lives we lead.

“Stories of Compassion” is part of an umbrella effort called “Compassion Games: Survival of the Kindest,” and it begins September 21st.  The Games are sponsored by Compassionate Seattle, United Way of King County, the City of Seattle and King County. They are intended as both a fun and serious way to renew regional dialog about the value of compassionate action in our personal lives and in our communities. Opening day coincides with United Way of King County’s “Day of Giving,” one of the great compassion efforts our community participates in every year. Contest entries will be posted online at the Compassion Games site, a gallery for all to read, see and share. Winners will be announced later this fall. But it won’t end there.

“Stories of Compassion” and “Compassion Games” are meant to continue and expand a regional conversation about ways to foster compassionate action. Four years ago, the Dalai Lama and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited Seattle to talk about the need for a more compassionate world, and tens of thousands of people pledged to identify, uphold and actively cultivate compassion in their communities. Inspired by their message against a backdrop of deeply partisan political and economic division, local organizations Compassionate Seattle and Compassionate Action Network International gelled around the message that compassion can bridge differences, create understanding and foster peace.

In 2010, Seattle became the first city in the world to affirm the Charter for Compassion, a document supporting compassion as the central tenet – the Golden Rule – among the world’s peoples, a necessary undertaking to encourage peace, nonviolence and understanding.

Other cities have followed Seattle’s lead, including Louisville, Kentucky. Recently, Louisville proudly counted more than 90,000 compassionate acts in one week. Now, they’ve thrown the challenge our way, and the Compassion Games is Seattle’s response. There are many ways to take part, and “Stories of Compassion” is but one.

To be clear, we are not arguing that stories about compassion aren’t being told. They are, every day, across varied mediums both local and national.  But they are drowned in the daily tidal wave of violence and name-calling that too often is packaged as the day’s news.  We’d like to see more stories that point us toward solutions to problems that plague our communities, and to make those stories easier for anyone to find. We intend to maintain a web presence that continues to collect these stories, an easy way to locate and share them well beyond the competition.

We envision a future when such stories dominate the “most read” list on news sites.

If we can give some attention to stories that matter, stories that bridge the divides between us and show us everyday solutions and pathways to alleviating suffering in our own community, then we can strengthen our communities. We encourage you to contribute your stories of compassion, for we cannot learn what we haven’t shared.

Note: Stories of Compassion editors’ group includes Gary Davis, Associate Executive Director at Seattle nonprofit Companis and longtime public radio reporter/editor and current news host for KPLU/NPR;  Anne Stadler, former KING/NBC public affairs veteran;  Rita Hibbard, executive director of Compassionate Action Network International and former Seattle Post-Intelligencer editor and co-founder of InvestigateWest, an investigative online journalism nonprofit;  Brook Stanford,   three-decade KOMO/ABC reporter; Chris Tugwell, YMCA Regional Director of Education, Employment and Technology programs, and editor of the community youth blog Puget SoundOff; and Marilyn Turkovich, director of Voices Education Project.