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.