My sister Chrissy is six years older than me. She was born deaf. My mother had the German measles while pregnant. Having a child with a disability in the 1950’s was very different than today. People only saw her disability not her ability. They didn’t see her soul, her emotions and the fact that beyond her silent world is a whole person just like the rest of us. I believe now that it was the lack of awareness and compassion which led people to be cruel to someone who was different. She experienced isolation from things that many of us take for granted such as a friend to have lunch with at school, someone to take you to the prom and trips with friends. As I was doing yoga in my backyard one day listening to nature I realized that my sister will never be able to hear the beautiful sounds of birds chirping, wind through the trees, Mozart, Miles Davis or the sound of her own voice.
However, she was and is lucky to have a loving family. She is very bright and creatively talented. Her life is simple. She loves to paint, loves crafts, scrapbooking and decorates cakes like a professional. She speaks well although does not use sign language. She has always been an excellent lip reader. At 53 years old she lives alone and struggles financially. Life still isn’t easy for her yet with all that she has been through she experiences a lot of happiness through the small pleaures and victories.
I write about her because I have learned more about life and practicing gratitude from her (unbeknownst to her) than any self help guru or scholar I have listened to or read over the years. Enlightenment can come from anyone and many times places we don’t expect. I didn’t realize this until I got older. I too had my moments of not seeing the person beyond the deafness. My journey has led to me a place of greater compassion and of realizing that you can never judge a book by its cover. One of my father’s favorite quotes was “you can never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins” and now it has become one of mine. We live in a culture that promotes perfection. Everyone is so concerned about external appearances, consumption, material possessions and it has caused them to live beyond their means. Call it God, Buddha, Allah or whoever you worship trying to teach us something or the universe re-booting itself but one thing I have noticed during these difficult economic times is that people are re-evaluating their lives. All the “keeping up with the joneses” has achieved nothing except put people in debt. What a dichotomy to see mansions that are being foreclosed and luxury cars being repossessed. It’s all a big facade. Maybe the American dream should have more to do with everyone being able to live in harmony with one another, being healthy, being happy and I don’t mean material happiness…there is no such thing. True happiness comes from within. Fulfillment in life comes from serving others and having a purpose. If we all had compassion for one another and saw ourselves when we looked at other people, there wouldn’t be any wars or greed because we would be too busy helping one another. When you can feel compassion for someone you can’t have anger towards them…even if they take your parking space or cut in front of you at the supermarket. I have been asked by people if I would feel compassion towards someone that committed a violent act against someone I loved. I said that it would be a process and something I would have to work towards. It would not be easy but the alternative is to live in your own personal prison of hatred. Those hateful feelings are normal but have no benefit in healing. You will only destroy yourself and not the person who inflicted the pain. I know it is easier said than done but true healing comes from forgiveness.
The Dali Lama said that we cause our own suffering with our mind. Our desires can cause suffering but we have the ability to change that by changing how we think. There is a lot of suffering in the world right now and I believe it has a purpose if we choose to learn from it. From suffering comes enlightenment and from sadness comes happiness. Ying and yang need each other for balance. Change and pain in life are inevitable but suffering is optional. My sister has taught me the real beauty in life lies in compassion towards others, simplicity and that our imperfections make us unique so we must look at others and see the beauty in them. That is where true enlightenment comes from.
PS – the paintings you see are all works of my sister!