I leaned my head through the window of the van. The first thing I noticed was the cute smell. Like cigarettes. And maybe body odor. Second? His eyes were tired and wrinkled. They are boring, even lethargic. My daughter wrinkled her nose. I gave him that look and try to hide my own doubts.
But Compassion rides in the car with me. And as the taxi driver guided the car to our destination, I asked him about his story. Turns out he was driving all night. Until 5:30 this morning. Bringing home people who are too drunk to drive themselves. So no one else might die like her lover did.
And Compassion sheds tears for the tired man in the black van.
I asked him to do his job. He stepped away and slammed the door, rolling his eyes to gauge. I rolled my eyes too. Then follow him as I form the lecture in my mind. I knocked, hard.
But when I entered her room, she curled up, and leaned against me, “Mama, I’m so tired,” she sighed.
And Compassion told me to hug my little girl. He sat on my warm lap and we stayed there together, for a while.
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Other text is ignored. A house full of moving boxes. But he couldn’t be bothered to answer. Our children are friends. So do we, I thought. Doesn’t he have 10 minutes to drop by? Bitterness creeps at the door, ready to invade my heart.
But Compassion reminded me. . . this friend? He said goodbye one too many times in his life. I deleted my text, which would let him know I was upset.
I put down my phone and said a prayer for him instead.
I could never do the right thing for my family members. My cooking, my way, my personality – nothing would please him. We are very different. I was tempted to return fire like he shot me. Once or twice, I have.
But Compassion remembered that this man’s entire life—his survival, his safety, his family—all depended on him being good enough. It was a habit he couldn’t break. So this time I will hold my tongue and smile.
I watched his back as he backed away from me, slamming the door as he walked out. It was a small dispute, which we won’t even remember tomorrow. Why is he so upset? I sat there, ready to sink into a pool of self-pity. Why can’t he. . . understand?
But Compassion told me to stop and think about the day she had.
The news he received. Maybe I should understand. I put my argumentative answer aside for another time. And follow him with a hug, instead.
They walked in the door after their trip to the park, hungry eyes, pregnant. But their faces dropped when they saw the tears on my face and when they smelled the burnt juice coming out of the oven. I did it again. I burned their dinner and blew up the glass pot to boot.
They rejoiced at the idea of homemade apple pie for dinner. They even lovingly helped me stack the sweet green slices on top of our favorite skillet (which made it, in a box, to Nebraska then Washington and back again). Now the pie is in pieces. And the pan too. My shoulders slumped. I am sorry. One by one, they came to me with a hug.
“Anyone can do that, Mom.”
“It’s all right, ma’am.”
“I’m not that hungry anyway.”
My husband came to me last, with a big bear hug.
Love must have tickled his heart. He looked at me for a long time, then went to the shop to buy us a cake.
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I stood at the kitchen sink, hands shaking. Memories from the past threaten to swallow me whole. Will I repeat that mistake? From generations gone by? Is the DNA in my blood stronger than I have to fight? Will the flashbacks stop? Will the same old story repeat itself?
My kids deserve better than me.
A mother who is so afraid of messing things up that she can’t even wash the dishes. My shoulders slumped, and the dam broke. Tears fell, and I finally told Him the truth. “Oh my God, I don’t know if I can do this.”
Mercy embraces me. Two big and strong arms. The same arms spread wide, long ago, in the greatest gesture of love we have ever known. I looked into His eyes. They were so clear and silent. At that moment, I forgot – what was I afraid of?
And in my ear, Compassion says, “I will never leave you.”