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Monday, August 25, 2014

Compassion on the Bayou

There is always the other side of the coin. Without pain we would never know pleasure, life cannot exist without death, and happiness without sadness. All adventures in life, on the way to work or across the world, offer blessings of warmth and tears. Misfortune and hardship is not a shame, but a part of life. We need this friction in order to be grateful, otherwise the world is just a child's careless stomping ground. If life is dependent on how many positives you can try to hoard you will be plagued by the truth of life. Experiences of pain typically cause suffering because our inability to to forgive and let them go - to amend our wrongs and show compassion to the wrongs of others.

If there is one thing that stands out to me about people down south is that most will look you in the eyes when you talk. When they look into you eyes they put themselves in your shoes for a moment and listen. Feel what it's like to be someone else. Respect them as a human of emotion that differs from yours. Some how people have gotten a bad wrap; Cons, deceivers, and mischiefs. It's quoted that "it is not like it used to be, you just can't trust anyone anymore." The number of people that cannot trust other people for suspicion make up a greater number than all the ill-intentioned. Often someone is relying on your trust, and you may want to give it because one day you may need it too.

For a portion of the route the amount of garbage littered about was noticeably increasing. A few people littered right before my eyes throwing beer cans into the river during mid conversation. It did not phase them. 4 refrigerators, a toilet, suitcase, car bumper, an entire car, dozens of tire, hundreds of beer cans, and thousands of wrappers were counted within our first week southbound. We were told by a riverboat owner he had left a marina, in which I am keeping anonymous, because they decided to pump over 100 gallons of gasoline right into the Tombigbee Waterway because is went stale in a houseboat tank! And unfortunately racism and segregation became more prevalent.

Just as we crossed over the Mississippi border I started becoming ill. As days paddled by my symptoms came in waves. At the peak of my affliction we were far out from any towns or resources. My body was sending signs or urgent medical care. The only thing for miles was one private boat dock leading up to a residential home. We didn't even have the opportunity to trespass to ask for help getting to a hospital. As we neared the shoreline, not even touching the dock, a gun fired. The bushes not 10 feet from our heads rustled and the bank directly behind us took the bullet. One day your famous and then next thing you know your dodging fire arms. All coins have 2 sides. 

You know what they say, "shoot first, ask questions later."  I took my only option and got back in the canoe and began long paddle back up stream to find a hospital. 

These occurrences are not a criticism of people, but they are very real. All parts of the world are equally guilty for various faults, but this is the other side we have seen on our trip. It's not glamorous, but it serves no integrity to stuff things under the bed. Many parts of the world are more violent, unsanitary, and unwelcoming, but it is no excuse for us to not improve ourselves. Maybe I cannot change these people, but I can offer them my compassion. And just because things are not right does not mean they are unworthy. Things can be improved and repaired, but they have to be uncovered and accepted first. For that, you can have mercy in your words on people. We all have shortcomings and room to grow.

It will only dig us deeper to hate those that are different from us, no matter how wrong they may seem. People have reasons for behaving they way they do, and if I can't put myself in their position even for a moment, I have no right to blame. Even the marksman who wizzed a bullet by my head; he was shooting at his own fear, not a guy on a canoe. There was a point in my life when I couldn't look the world in the eyes and was plagued by loneliness. I don't want to have coffee with the happy-trigger but I can relate to his fear. Empathy is a gateway to understanding and if you understood your so called enemy you could not hate. Look those in the eyes that you oppose like you would someone you admire. Not to condone, but to accept and forgive. Only through openness can we see and hear enough to help make a change. By cutting off the guilty you only cut off their solution. And by forgiving others you set yourself free. 

*** As an addition after this was written: this series of behaviors and common personalities fizzled out as we continued further south. Showing that it is not necessarily a "southern thing", but merely a pocket of society that was not as enthusiastic of life. The southern hospitality continues to grow on our journey, as we continue to give it back. 

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