The Birth of Compassion
In today’s Nest-Making guest post in honor of women and Women’s History Month, Teresa Deak writes the story of compassion and understanding born, like so many insights and the violets in my photo, at the venerable kitchen sink.
Thinking about women’s history and my own personal story, flies me through the few moments I can recall, and pauses on an evening in my mother’s kitchen. I stood with my hands in dishwater, facing the window. It was not yet dark enough to reflect the two women who spoke behind me. Their exchange was only words and voices.
As with so many of my memories, I realize that while my feelings in the moment are absolutely clear, the actual words are merely a fuzzy dream.
My mother, in her usual way, did not seem to care if I was in the room or not, if I could hear them or not. Clearly, though, I was not meant to be part of the conversation.
Known for her coldness to people, my mother was the local champion of the pro-life movement. So staunchly catholic it seemed to me she worshipped her religion, not her god. When this particular moment happened, I was a teen just beginning to realize that I was being raised to care more about judgement and appearance than anything spiritual. Even then, this didn’t feel right to me.
My mother spoke with a woman who was the mother of one of my school-mates. I was fascinated by this woman who was so beautiful and deep and caring, and yet who had come to the church in her adult years. She was so unlike the other women I knew, treating me with respect and kindness despite my young age.
Curiously, I don’t recall the name she went by at that time. She later changed her name to Sophia. Wisdom.
In this conversation, Sophia opened her heart to my mother, telling the self-appointed ruler of the anti-abortion cause that she had had an abortion.
I was shocked. Shocked that Sophia would tell my unfeeling mother that she had been through the painful process of ending an unwanted pregnancy. Shocked at her courage and mystified that she would share this with her at all. Did she think she might receive sympathy or love?
I felt like there was something I should be able to do. I don’t think I even realized at the time that I wanted to hug Sophia. To hold her in my arms and let her know she is loved. And I remember hearing the steely voice of my mother. She used all of her usual arguments against the act, defining those who choose abortion as evil. Describing hell. Telling Sophia she was not worthy of the sacraments because of this unforgivable sin. Seeing only the rigid belief she could never shed, not the person who I called friend re-living her pain before her.
The thing that I realized in that moment was all that I did not want to be. I wanted to never be so much a slave to my own causes that I would ignore the pain of a friend. I wanted to never be as cold as this mother who ruled with fear. Powerless to move, bound by the rules of my mother’s house, my tears quietly dripped into the dishwater.
Thinking now, with a heart that has burst well past the childhood boundaries imposed on it, I realize that I was experiencing something that I thought would take another 20 years to learn.
I thought I learned this with the passing of my Yogi dog to cancer in December 2000. The warmth and caring that wells up for someone else in pain, that feeling that seemed so foreign and new in my own loss, had begun long before.
The seed of compassion was planted with my back turned to Sophia and my hands captured by dishwater. Its essence in the moment felt only as a longing and a wish that I could warm the coldness, soften the judgement offered by this woman whose genes I am loathe to admit created me.
Teresa Deak is a Butterfly Practictioner, coaching clients through the maze of social media marketing with Butterfly Touches, sharing the Beauty in (sm)all things through her camera and her heart, and inviting us all to swim in the river of Gratitude together.
If you’re ready for a little more awe and delight in life, check out Teresa’s gorgeous Gratitude tarot deck.