Voices carry at 4:30 a.m. Two men outside the nursing home making food deliveries. The local man who spends his days walking back and forth from the halfway house to the train station passes. In silhouette, I recognise his movements – the right side of his body moving more fully, more expressively, than the left. He grunts as he turns the corner and slips into the darkness. I relax a little.

Leonard has the scent of a cat and tugs on the leash, burying his head in the neighbor’s hedge. And the morning freight train forces its way through the morning.

No phone, not distractions. Random concerns dissolving in my mind like old newspaper in water. Unresolved, but dissolving nonetheless.

The news is harsh again. Enough to hook you in the gut and force a sob. And there is the callousness of some people who are either made so from xenophobia (which I suppose is a pretty word for cultural supremacy or sometimes for out-and-out racism), or an overwhelming sense of helplessness. It is easier to get on with life if we can rationalize other people’s pain as some kind of cosmic justice. “They must have done something wrong to deserve this,” is nothing more than self-preservation: self-soothing in the face of the unthinkable.

It could have been me.
But it can’t happen to me.

Though I sometimes I wonder if I am capable of holding two thoughts in my head at once, I absolutely can.

It could have been me.
But it can’t happen to me.

When the Buddhists ask what it costs to extend compassion to everyone without judgement, maybe the answer is that it costs me the awareness of my own vulnerabilities? Not only to the damage earthquakes and violence can do to my body, but to the damage fear can do to my (for lack of a better word) soul.

A decade ago I worked with people who were escaping situations like those in the news now. And it was so easy to look for – and find – excuses to withhold compassion. Because the alternative was too painful to bear gracefully, “sensibly”.

It is a stereotype that I have heard women often bandy about: that men can’t listen without trying to fix everything. But isn’t that all of us? What we can’t fix we sometimes justify as not deserving fixing? Because it is all so difficult.

Many times I’ve watched newspapers fall apart in a tub of water. Watched the previous day’s news dissolve like the darkness at 4:30 when the sun nears the horizon in the east.

A deep breath. A dog on a leash. A human body struggling with the cost and the value of compassion.

There are roses in the dining room. And here on my desk. All coming with an apologies for the awkwardness of acknowledging a pain that is all to common but still taboo. I am grateful for the flowers, the expressions of condolence. 33 years of estrangement is in itself a very long grieving process. And I can only speak for myself but I am not feeling celebratory – it is not that kind of relief.

But it is a relief. To be rid of this burden of hope is a relief. Looking through a Buddhist lens I can see how exhausting it is: to use so much energy carrying around the weight of an imaginary future, projecting a narrative onto lives – and every second writing and rewriting to accommodate the disappointment. It is not living in the moment. It is moving through the world hobbled by fiction.

After my second child was born and I once again found myself rewriting a script – trying to embed the hope in some future watershed moment, I asked a priest if it was all right for me to let go of it: let go of the hope of my mother “coming around”, and to move on. He told me to talk to a psychiatrist. Sometimes I believe this conversation was when I gave up any hope or faith in the Church and I moved on from that cornerstone of my childhood. If the church deferred to pschyology for its moral compass, what use was it?

The odd thing was that I had given up on my childhood God long before that. I was clinging to the hope of a community, I think. In a foreign land. In a situation people hush and sweep into the offices of people trained to deal with “problems” like disordered thinking and ineffective emotional management.

In the animal world, being pushed out of the herd means death. Who are we kidding? We humans. There are so many kinds of death. Some good.

Emily Dickinson said that hope is the thing with feathers. But for me, hope is too often the thing that sinks to the muddy bottom, dragging you with it.

Letting go can be good.