Ocean of Compassion

July 7, 2010

On July 4 we went to the picturesque seaside village of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, for a Pruskin family gathering. The car ride with an unhappy infant and a squirmy toddler got long the last few miles, as did the beach traffic back-up, but we had a wonderful day with family, sun, warm ocean temps, kite flying, carousel riding, and lots of play.

The ocean did me so much good. With only minimal self-consciousness of my ileostomy pouch, I headed into the delicious waters of the Long Island Sound and found my playful dolphin self, jumping the waves, getting tantalizing more and more wet until finally I let go and dove under. Absolute bliss. Every inch of my skin tingled with the salt water, every cell vibrated with joy. It’s no wonder I found myself offering prayers, as I often do, to the ocean, to the sky, to the gentle sea breeze. A song came to me: “The ocean refuses no river, no river….” And then I remembered lines of a poem I started to write in another lifetime, 10 years ago, shortly after my mother had died: “Ocean make me whole again because I could not save my mother….”

After a beach lunch eaten out of everyone’s coolers, the kids were ready to head to town for a carousel ride and ice cream. David was getting Toby ready to catch up with the first wave that went to town, when I decided to join them to visit a public restroom. And so off to town we went, David wearing Leo in the Ergo on his back and carrying Toby in his arms (what a papa!).

I was in the bathroom for literally a minute when a woman started to complain very loudly that I was taking too long in the handicap bathroom. Apparently, she had two kids in tow whom she needed to change and was waiting rather impatiently for my stall. I called out that I would only be a moment. As I was taking care of my pouch needs (emptying and cleaning, about a 3 minute process) I could hear her telling everyone who entered the bathroom about the woman who had been in the big bathroom forever and who was holding everyone up. At this point, I wanted to throw open the door, flash my pouch in her face and yell: “You think you have problems? You try dealing with rectal cancer!”

When I left the stall, she fumed by me, pulling her kids behind her. I tried to give her a dirty look, but she ran past me so fast I don’t think she caught my glare. Just like that my good mood was gone. I was furious and also wanted to cry my eyes out. I seem to vacillate between those two emotions a lot these days. I found David and crew outside the old-fashioned carousel, watching the older kids collect their silver rings as the horses circled round and round. I was seething with anger, but when I tried to recount my bathroom woes to David it came across as a very weak story. In that moment the bad feelings completely dissolved, and in their place I felt my heart open in compassion.

Who knows what was going on for that mother, I realized. I certainly didn’t, and yet I was so willing to judge her. Who was I to assume that her problems were inconsequential compared to mine? And she didn’t have any understanding about my situation. I was stunned at how quickly I had hardened myself to this total stranger just because I felt falsely accused. My anger vanished and in its place I felt understanding and sympathy. Compassion bloomed in my heart. I saw so clearly how easy it is to get stuck in our own self-centered dramas. My thing is the only thing that matters and therefore you don’t exist. I am totally guilty of having acted this way in my lifetime, and it’s usually when I’m in a rush or attempting to get what I want without much concern for who gets trampled along the way.

I walked back to the beach with my heart wide open. I watched Toby as he rolled in the sand and played with complete joy and abandon at the ocean’s edge, and I felt so much tenderness for his pure delight. Later in the day, I chased him up and down the beach as he ran away in glee. At one point, he had gotten far ahead of me and I had to do an all-out sprint to catch him. It was the first time I had run in almost a year, since becoming pregnant, giving birth, having the rectal surgery. My body soared with the speed. It felt like flying. It was flying.

What a gift that woman gave to me.



  1. Bless you, Shira. I hope you have many more happy days at the beach this summer.

  2. Amazing how ordinary moments become opportunities for healing when accompanied by awareness.
    love you,

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