I lean my head in through the window of his van. The first thing I notice is the funny smell. Like cigarettes. And maybe body odor. The second? His tired, wrinkle-lined eyes. They’re dull, lethargic even. My daughter scrunches up her nose. I give her that look and try to hide my own misgivings.
But Compassion climbs in the car with me. And as the taxi driver guides the car toward our destination, I ask him about his story. Turns out he’s been driving all night. Till 5:30 this morning. Taking people home who were too drunk to drive themselves. So no one else might die like his beloved did.
And Compassion sheds a tear for the tired man in the black van.
I ask her to do her chores. She stomps away and slams her door, rolling her eyes for good measure. I roll my eyes too. Then follow her while I form a lecture in my mind. I knock, loudly.
But when I enter her room, she crumples, and leans up against me, “Mama, I’m so tired,” she sighs.
And Compassion tells me to hug my little girl. She sits in the warmth of my lap and we stay there together, for a while.
Another text ignored. A house full of moving boxes. But she can’t be bothered to reply. Our kiddos are friends. So were we, I thought. Doesn’t she have 10 minutes to stop by? Bitterness creeps at the door, ready to invade my heart.
But Compassion reminds me . . . this friend? She’s said goodbye one too many times in her life. I erase my text, the one that would have let her know I’m irritated.
I put down my phone and say a prayer for her instead.
I can never do things quite right for my family member. My cooking, my ways, my personality–none of it will ever please her. We are so different. I’m tempted to fire back the way she fires at me. A time or two, I have.
But Compassion remembers that this person’s whole life–her survival, her security, her family–it all depended on her being good enough. It’s a rut she can’t climb out of. So this time I’ll hold my tongue and smile.
I watch his back as he retreats from me, slamming the door on his way out. It was a small disagreement, one we won’t even remember tomorrow. Why is he so upset? I sit there, ready to drown in a pool of self-pity. Why can’t he just . . . understand?
But Compassion tells me to stop and think about the day he had.
The news he received. Maybe I should be the one to understand. I put aside my argumentative reply for another time. And follow him with a hug, instead.
They walk in the door after their trip to the park, eyes hungry, expectant. But their faces fall when they see the tears on mine and when they smell the burnt juices coming from the oven. I did it again. I burned their dinner and exploded the glass pan to boot.
They had rejoiced at the idea of homemade apple pie for dinner. They’d even lovingly helped me heap sweet, green slices atop our favorite pan (the one that made it, in boxes, to Nebraska then Washington and back). Now the pie is in pieces. And the pan is, too. My shoulders slump. I’m so sorry. One by one, they come to me with a hug.
“Anyone could do that, Mama.”
“It’s OK, Mom.”
“I’m not that hungry anyway.”
My husband comes to me last, with a big bear hug.
Compassion must have tickled his heart. He gives me one long look, then heads to the store to buy us a pie.
I stand at the kitchen sink, hands shaking. Memories from the past threaten to swallow me whole. Will I repeat those mistakes? From generations gone by? Is the DNA in my blood stronger than the will I have to fight? Will the flashbacks ever stop? Will it be the same old story all over again?
My kids deserve better than me.
A mom who’s so afraid of messing everything up, that she can’t even do the dishes. My shoulders slump, and the dam breaks. Tears fall, and I finally tell Him the truth. “Jesus, I don’t know if I can do this.”
Compassion puts His arm around me. Two big, strong arms. The same arms that spread open wide, a long time ago, in the greatest gesture of love we’ve ever known. I look in His eyes. They’re so clear and still. In that moment, I forget–what was it I was so afraid of?
And in my ear Compassion says, “I will never leave you.”