Robyn MacKay held hostage to compassion

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 4, 2019

Robyn MacKay shown compassion by overnight host in a small tribal village in northeast India.
Photo by Bruce Roberts

Cochrane’s MacKay family have long been famous for their many flavours of ice cream that have attracted the whole world to their doorstep. Well, their globe-cycling ambassador, Robyn MacKay, is at it again, but this time with an intriguing twist. It’s not vanilla, chocolate or strawberry that will draw the crowds to our friendly foothills town, but compassion.

Next Wed. evening at the Cochrane RancheHouse, Robyn will be the moderator for the 11th Annual World Religions Conference, sponsored by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at of Calgary. Panelists from five traditions will speak on the theme, “Universal Compassion: The Core Human Value.”

I was so delighted that Robyn was selected to emcee the event, that I asked her to share with our readers lessons she’s learned about compassion from her bicycling treks through religiously diverse India. Here’s her response:

MY CYCLING VENTURES through the Indian subcontinent over the years have, indeed, been lessons in compassion. A life-changing example was my pedaling pilgrimage in 2009. The purpose of the trip was to experience the birthplace and growth of some of the world’s major religions.

I began my journey in Kashmir, nestled in the Himalayan Mountains and reputed by many to be the place where Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden. I didn’t know until I arrived it was Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting, one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

What that meant to a hungry and thirsty cyclist was that cafés were closed from sun up to sun down. As I bumped my nose on the first roadside eatery door, I quickly learned travellers are exempt from fasting, and are beneficiaries of another of the Five Pillars, the obligation for all Muslims to benefit the poor, needy and stranded traveller.

A man that was walking by the cluster of small buildings stopped and asked me what I needed. I explained I needed food and water. The road ahead was a constant climb to 12,000 feet and I would fill my saddle bags with whatever was edible.

He came up to the door and banged on it with a hard, closed fist, rattling the hinges. The owner of the café came walking out from the back with his eyebrows furrowed looking at the man that was pounding the door, and then at me, and broke into a huge grin. My rescuer told the owner my story, and I was ushered in and treated to a delicious Kashmiri lunch. When I went to pay, I was shooed away because my rescuer had paid for my food.

The kindness, compassion and generosity I experienced at that door repeated itself over and over every day, and will always represent Islam to me. For the rest of my trip through Kashmir I was thrust from the loving arms of one family to another, even though at times my keepers weren’t related. I was a hostage of love and compassion.

—Robyn MacKay, Cochrane

FOR OTHERS’ INSIGHTS into the compassion that Robyn is so passionate about, be sure to attend Cochrane’s 11th Annual World Religions Conference at the RancheHouse, April 10, 6:30–8:30 PM (doors open at 6:00 PM). The evening will feature panelists representing Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the Baha’i Faith, and atheism.

To learn more about this free public event and to confirm your attendance, visit or phone 1-866-628-5435.

At a time when people of many religious flavours are rightly distressed over the hate crimes grabbing the headlines recently, this is a golden opportunity to consider the healing alternative: Compassion.

© 2019 Warren Harbeck

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