We boarded the Empress of Scotland, one of the Canadian Pacific Steamships. Because we were not “well off”, we had Tourist Class tickets, but were tickled pink when they told us because Tourist Class was full, we would have to go First Class. First Class!
We knew we didn’t fit in, but it was wonderful pretending we did. The First Class dining room (shown in the photo) was like an immense ornate ballroom. We ate out of nice china with fancy silverware, served by polite men in white uniforms. I think we actually said silly things like, “I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight.”
Soon enough we arrived in Canada. After a scenic train ride across the country (I remember going through the Rockies in the Dome Car), we reached Victoria, where we came back to earth.
My aunt’s idea of the job market had been a bit optimistic. Not finding carpentry work, my dad took a job as the night janitor in a big thrift store. It was great fun for me because the family went with him. My mum helped with the cleaning, and I roller skated around and played on the conveyor belt.
My dad seemed to take these ups and downs in his stride, but my mum not so much. I think she was the most elated by the First Class treatment, which was above her station, and felt the most humiliated by the janitor job, which was beneath it. Fairly soon afterward, my dad got a job with a cabinet maker and our family settled comfortably into the lower middle class where we belonged.
Whether it be to an unexpected benefit or to an unwelcome setback, I think my mother's response can be summed up in one sentence: I don't deserve this.
I recognize both my dad's equanimity and my mother's class-consciousness in my own character. As much as I'm reluctant to admit it, every day I catch myself making comparisons - "she's wealthy", "he's uneducated", "he's refined", "she's crude" - all measured against my current notion of who I think I am, or even, who I think I ought to be. It even creeps into my practice as uninvited thoughts critical of others' insight or commitment. And these are just the thoughts I catch.
These antics of monkey mind, if pursued or encouraged (or grappled with) tend to divert our awareness from our true nondual nature and interdependence with everything, which in turn, I think, weakens our drive to act compassionately.
The more I see you as me - whether you are wealthy but miserable, poor, dirty and hungry, addicted or deluded - and the less I set myself apart as better or worse, or just plain separate, the better are my chances of being compassionate to you.
And I need all the chances I can get.