IF there is any more memorable way that I have reconnected with old friends, I can't imagine one more relevant than with my good friend Ashaari.
Ashaari and I had only known each other previously from a theatre production a year before. I was an actor and he, a friend of the director's, was a front-of-house volunteer. Over a year later, I randomly responded to a mass Facebook message Ashaari had sent out, regarding a video project for an international initiative called the Charter of Compassion. He was looking for people to be filmed answering the question: What does the word 'compassion' mean to you?
The notion of compassion has meant a great deal to me throughout my life, but for the longest time it was something I was told to refrain from practicing.
I recall visiting my late grandmother at the old folks home where she was residing in her final years. During our visit, one of the other old folks dropped her water bottle, which rolled underneath the chair
he was sitting on. I went over and fetched it for her, and she seemed very grateful. On the drive back home, my father asked me, “Why did you pick up that woman's bottle?”“It fell,” I replied rather matter-of-factly.
“I know,” he retorted. “My question is, why did you help her? It's not your responsibility if you don't know her.”
My ex-father saw no benefit in me being compassionate. He looked down on me for being kind and concerned about animals and other people. My youth was filled with intense lectures that would last for hours on end. They painted frightful pictures about how the world was harsh and brutal, how people like me, the 'sensitive' ones, were the ones who always got taken advantage of and exploited throughout their lives. In his world, ruthlessness and selfishness was the correct way to survive.
His words made me feel flawed, incapacitated, and doubtful towards my instincts. It reached a point where I was confused about who I really was.
Somehow, miraculously, something inside told me to silently hold on to the things that still felt like they made more sense.
So when soft-spoken, bespectacled Ashaari met me to record my views, there was such a flood of expression that I had to stop myself from coming off as obsessive. It was my first time I had heard myself speak out on the topic since my parents' separation.
Thankfully, Ashaari responded well to my enthusiasm and he is now one of the best friends I have. We also happen to live in the same neighborhood!
Ashaari's disposition is a constant reminder to me that the reality that was drilled into me all those years was not the indispensable truth. Ashaari breathes compassion into everything he does, from his career to our community, from his social life to random encounters.
And contrary to someone like this in my father's eyes, Ashaari is successful, well-loved, and far from leading a downtrodden life.
Sometimes, in my low moments, I catch myself feeling rueful about my upbringing, but I have also acknowledged that everyone has their own journey to follow. My father's was most likely one that made him grow up quickly and fend for himself a lot earlier that I have had to, with the only approach he deemed as viable. If only he realized that it was his hard work in raising a comfortable family of four children that allowed at least one of them to see the world from a completely new perspective.
Waiting this long to celebrate my emotional independence has only affirmed that the personal values I kept were worthwhile. It has granted me the right to respect and appreciate myself - and others like Ashaari - more than I've ever could. It has allowed me to feel more connected with my surroundings, driven me to sign petitions and hold up protest placards, alter my diet, and empathize with the unlikeliest of future friends. I have learned that compassion is not a statement of self-righteousness, nor a sign of weakness or submission.
It is in fact a trait that propels people to display courage in its most incredible forms.
What does the word 'compassion' mean to me? As one of the most unique things that defines the very essence of being human, embracing compassion to me is the biggest reward for living.> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.