Thursday, February 19, 2015

Never Say Never #1000Speak


Lately, I have not been able to shake the memory of someone I once knew. She lurks in my brain, popping out at odd moments when I catch a whiff of Obsession perfume or see one of those early 20th century Coca-Cola advertisements.

I have a vision of this woman in my memory from my childhood: she's sitting in a lawn chair (the kind with a metal frame and seat made from plastic tubing) on a sticky Southeast TX summer evening eating corn on the cob and fried fish from a paper plate. Long legs and bare feet. Drinking sweet tea.

I didn't know her well; she was an adult, and I was a child for most of our relationship, and how well can a child know the mother of her playmate?

Here's what I remember: she was stylish, so stylish, in my young eyes. When I was very young, she had long, straight hair, parted in the center. In the 80s, she had it cut and permed. She wore lipstick and large sunglasses and got her nails done. She let my friend and me dress up on her high heels and off-the-shoulder dresses with crocheted lace trim and dance to Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog on the record player.

When I slept over, she allowed my playmate and me to fill up the tub all the way for our bath and didn't fuss about water on the floor. Later, she would make a pallet on the floor in front of the TV so we could stay up late watching I Love Lucy or Father Goose (her favorites, taped from the TV). She served Spaghetti-O's and chocolate chip cookies sliced from the tube.

I knew their house nearly as well as I knew my own, and I walked in and out of it nearly as freely.

She was artsy and mathematical. At home she crocheted and made stained glass pieces. But at work, she managed the books: first, in a doctor's office and then later at our church (where she was also a member). She wrote notes to herself on Post-It Notes in her large, round, left-slanted handwriting and stuck them to her steering wheel. I read them from the backseat on the way to school.

I saw her nearly daily, and I trusted her implicitly as I did every other parent with whom my parents socialized regularly. She watched me grow up; she watched me try on my hats to find which fit and flattered (with much trial and error); I remember nothing but kindness and generosity and patience (except when I was late for carpool). I do not know if she loved me, but I believe she was probably fond of me. In retrospect, I know I loved her.

I also know, though I denied it vehemently when first told, that she embezzled large sums of money from the church in which I grew up, the church made of up of people as dear to me as she. She stood trial and was convicted. The congregation she deceived was left confused, angry, and deeply hurt.

It is a shock to hear that someone who had a strong, positive presence in your formative years is capable of a serious crime. I accused the first person who told me of spreading nasty rumors because I was so convinced in my heart that it couldn't be true. I wasn't a financial victim, yet I can share with her victims the feelings of hurt and confusion and anger. I have compassion for them, and I can understand how hard it could be to forgive her acts.

But my compassion for her is also great. I know very little of true hardship. I've been relatively financially fortunate in my life with only a small taste of financial insecurity. Here's what I learned from it, though: a lack of safety and security blurs moral lines. The gray area gets wider by necessity; you must take care of yourself and your own.

I am not excusing her crime. I am not. But within it I recognize a desperation that I know might be my own in other circumstances. There, but for the grace of God, go I. I am as human and fallible as she was, and I cannot honestly say I would not do the same as she did if my outlook was bleak.

And from there springs my compassion for her choices. I will probably never understand the circumstances in which she found herself stealing money from her neighbors and fellow congregants. I do not know what worries and difficulty led her to stealing. I do not need to. I know her humanity, and I don't believe her crime negates all the good that she was.

I remember her and will remember her as good. I remember the woman who laughed in a large, feathered cowboy hat at her surprise 30th birthday celebration. The woman who showed me how aloe vera sap can be applied to a cut or burn. The one who took her daughter and me to work with her, let us play with her office supplies, and then took us out for hamburgers. And I remember her crime, but with compassion, because I am no better than she.


1000Speak started with an understanding that even though we might get older, we still all need the metaphorical village around us, and the compassion of others in our lives. Then the sudden thought happened – what if 1000 of us wrote about compassion all at once? From there, the movement has taken on its own life; has burgeoned and grown and spread a whole lot of love and connection and ‘villageyness’.
 
Spread the love using the hashtag #1000Speak.

Join the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion group on Facebook.

And join in – together we’re stronger.

On February 20, 2015, United Nations World Day of Social Justice, one thousand bloggers from all over the world will join their voices to speak through their blogs about compassion.

34 comments :

  1. That is an important thing to remember - we do not always know all the details about others' actions, nor do we need to. Compassion shouldn't come with stipulations or guidelines. You just never know what unseen motivations people have.

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    1. Yes, that is what I am trying to say and that I am not sure I am above others' less-impressive actions. Compassion means I don't think of myself as any better.

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  2. OMG Sarah. This might be my favorite #1000Speak post yet. That you told the story with such clarity and emotion and showed both sides and well yes. This IS compassion. True compassion.

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    1. KRISTI!!!!!! YOU MADE MY COMPASSION DAY!!!!! Thank you so much, friend.

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  3. This really hits close to home for me. When my brother was convicted I had to wonder through my anger at him what could possibly have driven him to act as he did? i just have to accept that I won''t know and try to understand the pain that causes some people to act out... I feel for you and your friends. This was so well done... thanks.

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    1. Yes, pain. Recognizing that pain is a motivator helps builds the compassion, doesn't it? And a sense of insecurity. Do you think it's possible that some criminal acts are a desperate striving for some control or security?
      Thanks for understanding.

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  4. Oh my goodness, this is wonderful. Completely and absolutely. I know people who have broken laws and done illegal things as well. It is shocking, to say the least. You have the right attitude about the entire situation.
    Beautiful post. You spoke the words your heart felt perfectly.

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    1. Thank you so much, Christine! I take your compliments highly.

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  5. Wow Sarah that is so true; There, but for the grace of God, go I always something I say to myself. Great and wonderful post

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  6. Being able to separate the individual from the action is truly compassionate. It is definitely possible to love someone without condoning their actions.

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    1. Yes, indeed. And I think it's important to recognize we're all similarly fallible.

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  7. This is so beautiful, Amy. This is what is so hard for people to do, because they're human. To realize the human-ness of everyone, especially when they NEED compassion the most, during the hard times, this is what the entire world needs more of. That's what this is all about. As a human who has made PLENTY of mistakes, and been through a lot of dark days, I know how you feel. My post has some of this as well, just asking people to CONSIDER the every day human, their mistakes, their flaws and just consider what could have put them in that place. Consider the struggles of another. By reaching a hand down for help, we all lift each other up. This is beautiful. I love it! Sharing.

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    1. Thank you so much, Joy. I read your post, and I agree wholeheartedly--consider the background. Who knows what you might do the same situation?

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  8. Oh my gosh. This made me want to cry. What a beautiful, powerful piece of writing chock-full of wisdom and insights. I'll be thinking about this all day. Brava.

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    1. Wow, thank you, Stephanie! You have written so many meaningful things for me, that I am beyond complimented that something I wrote was meaningful to you!

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  9. This is so very beautiful, Sarah. Love the sinner, hate the sin. She was a good role model for you growing up, and even in her fall from grace, you learned something from her, if only what NOT to do. Thank you for sharing your story.

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    1. Thank you so much, Dyanne! Yes, love the sinner, hate the sin, and I'd add more: recognize your own similar potential. None of us is perfect.

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  10. It's very easy to judge those that have done wrong but until you have walked in their shoes you just can't say what you would do. Like you said, "There but by the grace of God" that says it all. Great piece.

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    1. So true that's it's easiest to judge. And especially when you're the victim. I can probably be compassionate because I was relatively removed from the situation. It's harder when you're involved.

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  11. Oh Sarah, what a STORY!!!! Here I thought you were going to only share about this woman's deep compassionate soul with her presence in your young life, having an impact on your young heart. It makes me wonder more about this woman's needs, or her husband, or was it a compulsive disorder as you mentioned she dressed beautifully, so this doesn't seem like she really was financially insecure. Just such a horrible atrocity!! And yet, you dare to reach your heart out in compassion for this woman. Oh, my HEART.

    There, but for the grace of God, go I.

    YES, my friend. Grace be with us ALL.

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    1. I do know a bit more, but I didn't want to go into tons of detail considering she's not my mother or grandmother or late spouse. I wished to know more at one time, but I'm at better peace with it now. Thank you so much for your kind words!

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  12. This is one of the best posts that I have read so far. Your empathy for this woman is real, your non-judging way of looking at her situation is a testament to your compassion. We rarely know all of the details therefore we rarely should judge.

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    1. Awww, Pattie, thank you so much! I'm so glad I came across as non-judgemental. That was the goal--nonjudgemental of her, nonjudgemental of people who can't forgive her. I feel compassionate towards all in this terrible situation.

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  13. Wow. Thank you so much for making me think. You really struck a nerve with me. I had a very good, dear friend who embezzled money from our old company. I felt betrayed and grieved for the loss of the friend I thought I knew so well. But you are so right, her mistakes are not for me to judge and they don't negate the goodness she brought to my life. Thank you for this eye-opening post. Excellent!

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    1. I'm so glad this post was meaningful. You totally got what I was trying to say. But I also think the victims (like you) deserve compassion. Compassion for being deceived and compassion in the struggle to forgive. Forgiveness is HARD.

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  14. I say that to myself, a lot. "There, but for the grace of God, go I". This one special story that has so much meaning in terms of compassion. I'm glad you have wonderful memories of this woman who happened to do a bad thing. It speaks to the fact that we all have so much inside of us that we cannot be defined by one action.

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    1. I could have sworn I already replied to this comment. I like what you wrote--"we all have so much inside us." This is so true. We have good and bad. May we let the good show.

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  15. Sarah, the world needs more people like you. I can feel your love for this woman through your words, and I'm glad that her actions did not negate your feelings for her. Yours is an example of compassion that isn't often considered, but it should be. I'm so glad you shared your story; it will stay with me.

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    1. Those are kind, kind words, Dana. I truly appreciate them.

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  16. I am so happy you went with this story. I can certainly understand your shock and denial but I can also understand your compassion. I know I probably would have felt it too. No, not probably....I do feel it. From everything you wrote about your friend's mother, the way you described her, I don't thing she was a bad or broken person. People do things for reasons that we don't always understand, or maybe we do and are just afraid to say so out loud. Whatever her reasons were I agree that her crime doesn't diminish the good in her. I'm sure she lived with her guilt long before she was caught. You are a good person for standing by her and still defending her as the person you know she was. Good for you. That, my friend, is true compassion!

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    1. I know you must feel it, too, Sandy. You are so innately compassionate. We make mistakes; I've made mistakes. I can only hope my whole character is not judged by them.

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  17. This is a great post for the day of compassion. We can never fully understand why a person acts the way they do in a given moment, yet we can know them as a whole over time. Everyone deserves compassion and understanding.

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    1. Thank you so much, Elizabeth. I couldn't agree more.

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