Opinion: In D.C., swimming in a sea of compassion


Courtesy photo

Jael Kampfe, left, met a woman, originally from Butte, who gave her this sign during the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. She never did get her name.

I didn’t march this weekend in the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. I swam. Swept into a sea of compassion, dense with weight, I connected to hundreds of thousands of strangers.

As a Montanan, I crave open space. I like to see large distances of nothing. My favorite towns consist of a bar and a post office. I love our Big Sky.

The Washington Mall for the Women’s March was not this. It was more people in one place than live in all of Montana if you took away Billings, maybe Bozeman too. No cows and walled in with a lid of gray sky.

Yet, starting with the plane ride from Minneapolis to D.C., I felt held and cared for. Women oozing courage reaching out, cheering and sharing cherished stories; listeners tucking these new treasures away in purses next to a favorite lipstick or a grandchild’s photograph.

We looked each other in the eyes, loving all that was held there. We bore witness to our differences, often summarized in a poster board; haiku capturing novels of lives lived and struggles endured. And we knew that our story was their story, because we are all mothers and daughters, wives and sisters:

♦ A white woman’s wheelchair was collectively lifted so she could leave the street and find the sidewalk.

♦ An elderly Latina woman from Florida had her hand held as she wept tears of gratitude for all the support received so that despite poor health she could march.

♦ An African American woman was talked down from a panic attack as the crowd grew, not yet marching and with the space became tighter and the air too still.

A woman from Butte hugged me and then gave me a Montana sign to carry. A woman whose husband was from Glendive helped me protect a baby carriage from the masses leaning in. A couple asked if I knew Lisa Smith from Missoula. I did not. We visited anyway. A woman took my picture for a Big Sky ski instructor who couldn’t march.

I felt beloved. Looking around, so did everyone else.

In a sea of perhaps 500,000, maybe 700,000 people, it never felt scary or uncertain. In fact, it was the opposite. Compassion took form and held up the sky, creating space for humanity.

I felt the fabric of our country, of democracy. I rubbed up against and leaned into all the different colors and religions and genders and issues and felt the compassion stitching us together. I was grateful for my small square, next to richness and texture and complexity, lending itself to deliciousness.

I come home with a deeper commitment to engage in new issues, to look for a path of kindness among strangers and to learn new stories. I want to grow compassion, like grass for cattle, more densely, and in the deepest shades of spring green.

This weekend, compassion took form and held up a bigger sky. And as a Montana cowgirl, I do love a Big Sky.

Jael Kampfe, of Bearcreek, is a fourth-generation Montanan, retired rancher, a believer in kindness.

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