Talaya Dendy: My Three Pathways to Compassion
There have been a number of experiences I have had that led me to want to help people feel whole. The top three: being diagnosed with cancer, being an introvert, and embracing my natural hair.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had no idea how much my life was going to change. It doesn’t just impact your health. It impacts your family, job, finances, emotions, outlook on life, appearance. Sometimes cancer can make you feel like your life is falling apart. But a cancer diagnosis does not mean the end. Your life is not over. I also learned, and now share with others as a cancer doula, that the things you are feeling are okay and they are normal.
My experience being an introvert has been challenging at times. I am often misunderstood. If you are not bubbly and social, people can assume the worst. Being judged based on whether or not I smile, how openly I talk to others, and my perceived lack of interest and low energy level, have sometimes made me feel like I did not matter.
Many years ago, when I decided to go natural with my hair, the beauty that people saw in my long, relaxed, straight hair was no longer visible to some when my hair was tight and curly. One guy asked me why I wear my hair that way — that it looks better straight. Thankfully, I do not place my value in my hair!
These experiences have helped me be kind to myself and accept the fact that I am not for everyone and that is okay. They have helped me to truly acknowledge and understand the feelings of others better.
Cindy Suplick: Finding Stability in an Unstable World
“I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” — Maya Angelou
One of the key components of resilience is the capability to bounce back in the face of adversity, trauma, or stress. It is a skill I honed to cope with serious chronic illness. Eight years ago I nearly died of drug toxicity because of a doctor’s prescription. I lost my cognitive function, my driver’s license, and my self- esteem. Life was so grim that there was talk of putting me in an assisted living facility. Little by little, I came back to life through brain training exercises, a rigorous physical fitness program, my weekly support group, reaching out to friends, and reaffirming my faith.
Current events have swept away many of my carefully built mental and social underpinnings. Self-care for me is a necessity. I shut off the media cacophony of body counts. I join peaceful protests and give resources to my community. Generosity acts as an anti-anxiety elixir.
I am not whole unless my children and grandchildren are safe. The young parents are exhausted, but the little ones are thriving. We have a daily text thread with pictures, and FaceTimes of developmental leaps.
I am devoted to daily walks on local trails. In nature there is solace, serenity, and spiritual renewal. I can seek out creeks, parks, and neighborhood sloughs. I once saw a doe nursing her twin fawns. Though the school running team leaves me in the dust, I am heartened by their enthusiasm. I appreciate the upbeat charm in children’s iridescent chalk drawings of hearts, butterflies, and geometric designs. My favorite sign on the trail is: “Have courage, be kind. This too shall pass.”
When I look more closely, listen more clearly, and breathe deeply into my neighborhood, it is time well spent.
We are living in a surreal world. The view out our windows is deceptively normal, but the danger is very real. Humans have a lot of capacity for resilience, but we need to look out for each other and work together. I am hopeful that healing is on the horizon.
Leah Berard: Connecting by Bicycle
My life revolved around sport and travel for years. Then my reasons to get on a plane halted to zero because of the pandemic.
My soul needs the freedom that learning and traveling offers or else I get lonely. I replaced the tin can of planes for a smoother piece of aluminum with two wheels and a saddle.
My bike gives me the freedom and change of scenery I crave. It is my mode of connecting to our diverse community.
One reason I love travel is the people I meet. Now I meet my neighbors, the ones with whom I share things in common yet did not know.
I feel grateful to slow down and be present. I feel more whole. I hope others have a similar experience, as we need to come together to heal and grow ourselves as well as the community.
These times will strengthen us if we allow it. We will heal if we choose to listen to one another.
The halt to the life I knew gave me the tools to understand the present — and the importance of truly being present.
Shani Tran: Own It
I did not feel whole most of my life. I am an educated Black woman who spent most of my younger years living abroad. When I look back into my childhood, I remember vividly how often I was told, “You don’t act Black.”
Just thinking about it now, my heart is speeding up and my eyes are heavy with water. My Black family members would put it this way: “Why do you talk like that?” My Black friends would put it this way: “You are the whitest Black girl I know.” And in general, my white friends allowed me to be around because I never disturbed their privilege.
I did not feel like I could authentically and holistically be myself until I found a space that allowed me to be me. When I first got into private practice as a therapist, I was not sure of the clients I would attract.
Word got out that there was a Black therapist working in Minnesota. I create a safe place for people of color to ‘own it.’
You do not have to show up in my office wondering if you can be yourself. Through modeling behavior, I empower people to be whole as a Black person.
The words “whole” and “healing” are rooted in meaning and intertwined with experience. Similarly entwined are giving and receiving. Writing has been, all of my life, an impulse toward wholeness: a tool for understanding and healing wounds, a route to a more compassionate view, a way to observe more keenly the mysterious ways of this world.
A deep belief in this simple and powerful tool, and a desire to share it, led me to teach writing — which I have done for decades. After creating a safe space, my work is to guide students. Awakenings toward their own wholeness always move me. Similarly, as I walked with my beloved elders toward their final days, I learned how presence heals, how we all grapple toward wholeness even as we approach the end.
My own near-death experience at a young age was illumined and softened by the presence of loved ones in moments of suspended fear and mystery — another gift I pass on. The love embedded in caregiving braids together giving and receiving in ways that provide healing and powerful moments of wholeness.
Author of Hands and Heart Together – Daily Meditations for Caregivers (Holy Cow! Press Oct. 2020)