Eye-Opening Moments are real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives intertwined. In this episode you will hear about Singled Out or Just Different and Unexpected Compassion.
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Hello and welcome to episode #54 of Eye-Opening Moments where you’ll hear real-life stories of adversity, encounters, and perspectives intertwined. They are moments that can lift your spirits, give you some food for thought, or move you. For the introspective mind that likes to reflect, discover, and find solutions or meaning in a complex life, this is for you. I’m your host Emily Kay Tan. In this episode, you will hear about Singled Out or Just Different and Unexpected Compassion.
Singled Out or Just Different
My older sister, younger sister, and I were sitting on a brown fabric couch that was a three-seater. A designer curved its back like a half-circle at the top where you could lean back. It looked big, comfy, and soft. My youngest sister sat nearby on the carpet to the side of my younger sister. Mom placed us in order from oldest to youngest. I was in the middle on the couch since I was number two. In order, we were six, five, four, and one. This picture was one of the few old pictures Grandma Sandy gave of my sisters and me when I was well into my thirties.
Looking at the photo as an adult, I noticed that my three sisters had long hair, and I was the only one with bangs and short hair above my shoulders. I wondered why that was so. My dress was lime green on the top half and dark blue on the bottom half. It was two solid colors. My three sisters had soft flowy dresses with flowers or swirly circles and ruffles on the sleeves or the bottom of the dresses. They looked so pretty and girly while I looked like a tomboy, but I was not one. Why had Mom chosen to dress me that way? Why did she cut my hair that why? Why was I made to look different from my sisters?
Still five, Mom had me move from the south to live with Grandma Sandy on the east coast. None of my siblings went with me. I was the only one chosen to go live with Grandma's family. Mom said my older sister was good to have around as a little helper, my younger sister was weak and often sick, and my youngest sister would be too much for Grandma to handle. Mom said I was the strong one, the one that was low maintenance, so I was best suited to stay with Grandma since Mom already had her hands full as a young mom.
Sometimes, Grandma Sandy would chat with me. It was usually her telling me stories about my family, the one that lived in the south. She'd say how Mom would brag about how beautiful her daughters were. Grandma would say that I was pretty, too; it was as if she was trying to comfort me. It led me to think that I was the family's ugly duckling. I didn't choose my looks, so what was I supposed to do about it?
Everyone agreed that I had the most admirable skin, smooth and fair. My relatives also said I had the best ears because they were meaty at the bottom. Our ancestors believed it meant that I would be wealthy or have a comfortable life. They seemed annoyed that I could have any good qualities and snickered at me.
My third most remarkable feature was my nose, or so they said. According to my relatives, I only lucked out to get flawless skin, meaty ears, and a straight nose instead of a pig nose (like Mom's nose) because I inherited them from my father. Mom thought Dad was a handsome man, but she was not pleased with my looks.
As young women, my older sister got cosmetic surgery for her nose, and my younger sister got breast implants; they were all paid for by my parents. Mom called them beautiful, but they had cosmetic surgery. Ugly me never got any physical alterations.
My three sisters had college tuition paid for by our parents; I was the only one who did not. My older sister got a BMW at age sixteen, and my youngest sister got a condominium at age eighteen. I never got a car or house paid for by them. I am not saying that it wasn't fair, but why was I the one to get nothing paid by them? Perhaps living with Grandma Sandy since age five meant I was no longer their responsibility. Maybe Mom was glad to wash her hands of me. I only sporadically saw her after moving to Grandma's house, and we hardly communicated or connected.
Singled out to look different or not, singled out to be treated differently or not, I came to believe I was different in the negative sense. I never knew why Mom dressed or treated me differently; I just knew that I felt its pain. I was left to feel inferior, unworthy, unwanted, and unloved.
Despite being born into such a family, I grew up in Grandma Sandy’s family, which was different from Mom's family. Through Grandma's example and nagging lectures, I learned the importance of character, hard work, gratitude, appreciation, responsibility, & respect for elders and ancestors. Grandma showed me that strength of character and diligence in work mattered more. Mom demonstrated that looks and possessions mattered more. Grandma reminded me to appreciate what I have and respect my ancestors who gave me my culture identity. Mom showed me the opposite of all that my grandma impressed upon me. I never understood how a mother and daughter could be so vastly different in values and attitudes like my mom and grandmother.
With the influence of Grandma Sandy, education, different encounters, and life experiences, I have come to believe I am different in a positive sense. I now grant myself worthiness and love.
Learning lessons from childhood experiences and discovering that my stories significantly affect my behavior and actions, I choose to create the stories I tell myself that would help me move forward. I unknowingly told myself that I was not good enough because I was the only one who went to live with Grandma Sandy. But as I matured, I discovered that it was up to me to grant myself worthiness, and I strived to achieve goals and stand back up whenever I fell.
Because I needed to pay for my college education, I learned to be creative and tenacious. Because I grew up with fewer material goods, I learned to appreciate what I had. Though I was not considered beautiful by Mom, I counted on acquiring skills and building strength of character. Though I grew up in Grandma Sandy’s household and not my own mother, I was lucky. I had a grandmother who cared for me, lectured me on how to be a good person, and imparted values that have influenced me to accomplish many things. Inventing the idea that I was lucky to be with Grandma Sandy, I appreciate all the positive things she instilled in me.
I can proudly say that I paid for my own college education, car, house, and many other things. I can acknowledge my strength, resilience, creativity, and courage to overcome many challenges. I no longer feel inferior, unworthy, unwanted, and unloved. And that is the greatest present I gift myself, from feeling singled out to feeling tickled to be different.
It was 11 PM, and I was ready to enjoy a good night's sleep in my hotel room. But try as I might, I had great difficulty falling asleep. Nothing was troubling me, nor was there anything on my mind. I was enjoying a peaceful time doing volunteer work in Bhutan. So, why couldn't I sleep? As a light sleeper, it was hard to sleep with noise. I was in a small town of about 13,000 people. There were not many people around, so what was the noise that kept me up and did not allow me to sleep a wink? The barking of dogs nearby produced sleepless nights, but the same sounds lulled me to sleep a few days later.
Barking dogs late at night were the most annoying. I didn't know how many dogs were barking, but it was more than a few. Some barking sounded like howling, some like spurts of clearing the throat, and some like whimpers. When one group of barking dogs stopped as if they were tired or taking a break, another group of howlers seemed to continue in the distance. Before the second group stopped howling, another nearby group started barking.
The dogs worked as if they teamed up to play music with one group after another, only it wasn't pleasant sounds to the ears. Some sounded nearby, some less nearby, and some in the distance. There were loud, medium, and soft barking sounds. Each group had a different volume, probably because of its location from my hotel room. It was like several bands taking turns or chiming in from one another. The bothersome noises were relentless; they seemed to bark all night until the early morning hours before sunrise.
By the time it was six or seven in the morning, I would awake to silence. I wondered when the dogs stopped barking and how did I fall asleep through it all? Though I felt tired and unrested when I got up in the morning, I enjoyed a quiet breakfast in the hotel restaurant, where I was usually the only guest at breakfast. There were few visitors or tourists in late winter or early spring.
As I walked over to volunteer at a high school, I enjoyed the cold crispy air and majestic mountains that enveloped the town. When I arrived on campus, I saw a dog here and a dog there lying on the grass in a deep sleep. Nobody bothered them; they were left alone to sleep wherever they wanted. The sounds of high schoolers did not wake the dogs. I looked at the dogs and said to myself, "It must have been you and your friends barking all night. Look at you enjoying some sleep. Don't you know because of your barking, I could not get a good night's rest?"
I wanted to lecture and whip them, but they were fast asleep. I wished I could sleep through the noise like them. Looking at the dogs, I didn't start my day with a good attitude. Fortunately, observing well-behaved and courteous teenagers brightened my day along with the sunshine that began warming everyone, including the dogs lying on the grass.
After a few days of enduring the barking and howling in the night, I mentioned it to Kelsey, a teacher I worked with at the school. She matter-of-factly said, "Oh, we have a lot of stray dogs here because they have no owners. The government is working on a program to have families adopt dogs. Our winter nights are cold; the dogs are cold and don't have a home, so they bark and howl."
After learning about the situation from Kelsey, I went to sleep differently that night. As usual, I crawled into bed and heard the barking sounds, but my reaction to it changed. I couldn't believe what I felt and what my inner voice said. The feeling was that of compassion. My inner voice said, "I hope the dogs find a warm corner to sleep in, or a family would take one into their house so they could be warm." I was fortunate to be sleeping in a bed with blankets keeping me warm. I hoped and prayed that the dogs would find warmth too. Strangely, the barking sounds stopped irritating me; instead, they lulled me to sleep.
The next day when I went to work, I again saw stray dogs sleeping on the grass on the school campus. A strange sensation came over me; it was a feeling of compassion. I said to myself, "I am so glad the dogs can now peacefully sleep in the warm sunshine. They are quiet and not bothering anyone on campus. I am glad the sun has come out to keep them warm."
The newfound knowledge I learned from Kelsey changed my perception, so I sympathized with the dogs. However, knowledge does not always change a person's perception. In this situation, it wasn't very likely that I could react with compassion. It was strange and unusual for me for two reasons.
I never particularly liked dogs because when I was about four years old, a dog sniffed at my green corduroy pants and could have bitten me as I stood on the street corner alone near my house. The trauma had me frightened of dogs. I think dogs sense my fear and would give me the eye looking my way. They may be man's best friend, but they were my enemy. Though I overcame many fears, including that of dogs, many years later, the scene of me with my green corduroy pants on the street corner does not escape my memory. Thus, for me, to have compassion for dogs is a surprise.
Another reason I was surprised to have the feeling of compassion was that I said I never had a great deal of compassion for anyone or any living thing. I knew this about myself when I took a personal development course and discovered the reason behind it or its origin. As a child, I was traumatized when my mom sent me to live with Grandma at five. My uncles said I didn't belong in their family too. It seemed like it never occurred to my relatives that I could be traumatized by Mom tossing me away.
No one had sympathy or empathy for me. Unbeknownst to me, that was the beginning of me having no sympathy or empathy for others. At only five, I turned cold. Perhaps it was my way of dealing with my situation. It became a habit not to care too much about others because no one cared much for me, and the pain hurt. It took many years and a conscious effort to have compassion for others. But when I arrived in Bhutan and came to have compassion for the stray dogs, I discovered I had come a long way in growth and development to become a better human being who could willingly and unabashedly give a hoot and have a heart.
The unexpected compassion reminds me that the world needs more of it. The more there are, the more there are people who can help others and bring about change to improve situations. I know first-hand the importance of it. My lack of having it as a child made me cold for too many years. When I met a compassionate lady who showed me overwhelming care and love, my cold heart warmed up. When I went to Bhutan, Bhutanese people surrounded me. They appeared to have a giving heart for all living things. They inspired me to be more giving and loving. There is hope for that cold-hearted little five-year-old who was tossed, and there is hope for a better tomorrow with a bit of heart from everyone.
Though I felt singled out and treated differently as a child, I changed my perception to see that being different was a positive thing to embrace as a mature woman.
Though I lacked much compassion most of my life, I discovered compassion developed in me when I heard barking dogs at night.
Next week, you will hear two new real-life stories called Getting Knocked Down and How to Stop Saying Yes. If you enjoyed this episode of Eye-Opening Moments, please share it with others, subscribe, support the show by clicking on the link in the description, or go to www.inspiremereads.com and leave a message. Thank you for listening!