Ancient History

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The woman on the side of the road

Several days ago, I was driving to pick up the kids from school when I saw a woman walking on the edge of the street. The sidewalk was covered with snow. There wasn’t a safe alternative. She wore a red jacket and a hat. She had long brown hair, black-framed glasses, and no gloves.

I thought about asking if she needed a ride. It was 2 degrees outside, according to the gauge on the van’s rearview mirror. It felt much colder because of the wind. I knew because I had just pumped gas, stopping at the 5 gallon point because I couldn’t tolerate the conditions. I felt like I was being whisked into a cold drink, perhaps a nog or a smoothie. By the Abominable Snowman.

To speak to the woman, I would have to stop in the middle of a 6-lane road, one of the busiest in the Denver-metro area. The street was icy and snow-packed, so a sudden stop would not have been safe for me or for the other drivers.

I was on a mission to get my 5 oldest kids and bring them home, safely.

What if she needed to go somewhere in the opposite direction of the school?

How would I explain to the kids that I gave a lady a ride, but normally you shouldn’t give rides to people you don’t know.

But isn’t that fearful outlook on humanity damaging to our sense of community? Everyone is a potential sociopath, even middle-aged women walking on the edge of a road in bitterly cold and snowy temperatures.

She wasn’t a serial killer. I guarantee it.

She was having a very bad day. I guarantee it.

I read a letter posted at Free Range Kids called The Prison of Fearful Parenting. I think our society has built a prison of fearful living. I was afraid of the other cars, the conditions, of being inconvenienced. I was fearful of questions about my decision if I had offered a ride and she had accepted.

The writer of the letter noted:

For me, I am striving to equip myself and my kids with compassion. It seems to be a great gift in any circumstance, foreseen or not, and a return to interdependence is definitely on the horizon. Fear and judgement are always in long supply. Stock up on compassion now. รขโ‚ฌโ€ Mollie Kaye

I’m not sure how I would “stock up” on compassion, though. It isn’t a finite recourse. It is renewable every morning when we open our eyes. Being compassionate is a choice. Otherwise, I totally agree with the sentiments.

…And then I get irritated when compassion isn’t shown to me. Shouldn’t I have compassion about other’s lack of compassion?

What is compassion?

It’s seeing the world through glasses perched on your heart. These glasses magnify the human condition to a point where little hurts loom large and big hurts are the size of Jupiter—and you want to do something about it. Compassion is empathy with legs.

Compassion is nothing without action.

This morning, I was struggling with Archie as we walked into a store. He abruptly decided he would rather sit on the cold concrete than hold my hand. Beatrix was being very patient. Teddy was asleep in the carrier. A woman with 2 small children, one in her arms, asked if I needed any help. She told me she had 4 kids and that she knew things weren’t going well.

I turned her down without thought. The no, thank you popped out before I could consider the offer. Not only do we live in a fearful society, we live in a prideful society. I could handle it on my own, even if that meant my stress level would skyrocket. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

So I picked up Archie in one arm. He flailed and kicked. I carried Teddy in the other. We walked through the first set of double doors. We walked through the second, where the woman was waiting with a cart for us.

Here, she said, sliding it in front of me so I could quickly make my deposit of 30 pounds of toddler fury.

I’m glad she didn’t take my no for an answer.

Compassion is nothing without persistence.

11 comments to The woman on the side of the road

  • amy

    Thoughtful post. I remember one time when my mom picked up a pregnant woman in a parking lot when I was young. I was astonished — this woman was a stranger, why was my mom letting her in our car? After she got out my mom explained, she could see she needed help (some sort of car problem), and she just knew this woman was not a threat. It was a big moment for me as a kid, one of the first where I understood clearly that gray areas exist. I know what you mean about pride too, I almost always say no when strangers offer to help in a kid tantrum situation, I feel like it calls attention to the fact that I’m not handling the situation well. Then the other day a friend commented out of the blue that she tries to never be embarrassed by her kids behavior, I thought it was a good practice. Afterall, Archie was not having a tantrum because of something you did, but because he is 2. I have such a heightened sense of responsibility, that I feel my children’s actions are always a consequence of my parenting, but really, I’m just lightly steering the ship.

  • Wow. I totally get what you are saying with this post. In a day & age where we need to be careful who we interact with, I’ve had some good conversations with my kids that started with them asking, why did you give money to that person?

    I think I need to recognize more opportunities to reach out to those around me. ๐Ÿ™‚ Do what we can, when we can.

  • I wish I had more clarity on how to strike the balance among common sense and good judgment as it relates to safety and fear and knowledge and experience and compassion. It’s all tangled up in a big sticky ball.

  • One response that I hope qualifies as action is an action of the heart, or as you put it, having compassion on other people’s lack of compassion. I’ve heard it put thus: make excuses for others’ sins, but not for your own.

    I love this post. I love the way the woman made herself vulnerable to your emotions. She risked being rejected, in order to help you. I should be more like that.

  • I read an article recently about how we think every guy who wants to work with children or sits at the park alone or even gives your kid a sideways glance at the grocery store is a pedophile. I think this is along the same lines – Do we let fear of a few psychos stop us from showing kindness and courtesy to the rest of the population?

    When Husband and I were sans children, we once stopped and picked up a couple who were walking on the side of the interstate. They were….on the creepy-looking side of the spectrum, but my heart wouldn’t let me pass by. But now that I have kids, I feel like I must look out for their safety more than my own, if that makes sense. But I want to model compassion. ???

    As AM said, “It’s all tangled up in a big sticky ball.”

  • Amy

    Love, love, love this. It may be one of my favorite things you’ve ever written.

    Nurturing a heart of compassion, in myself and my boy, has been on my mind lately. Thanks for challenging me to not only walk in compassion towards others, but to receive compassion in return.

  • What a great post!! Since I often have multiple young children with me I often wonder why nobody ever offers to help. I don’t want to NEED help, but sometimes I have to allow it. I have on many occasions tried distracting a child who was clearly trying mom or dads patience.

  • edj

    Great post. The answers to the questions you pose aren’t easy at all, but it’s something we should all be wrestling with.

  • Lately, no matter what I seem to be studying out in scripture, I keep coming across the passage on “when you help the least of these…” and it sucker-punches me every time. I’ve realized that I literally consider all strangers crazy, until they could prove to me otherwise, so I avoid them when out and about.

    Sometimes I have those moments where I think, What the heck is wrong with me?!? It is fear…and apathy on my part. It needs to go. I need a huge helping of compassion. HUGE.

  • I can’t tell you how many times I’ve offered to help people and they’ve turned me down, and I’m offended when they do! God calls us to be servants, but how can we if we’re always turning each other down? I wish those who are reluctant to be on the receiving end would understand that it is as much a blessing to help as it is to be helped.

  • Bridget

    I once helped a woman out after dance class. She had a toddler that was acting up and she had her hands full with a big purse, dance bag and an older sibling that just wanted to get home. I asked the woman if I could help her out to her car. I was so happy that she said “Yes”. She was able to pick up her thrashing toddler while I grabbed her bags and held her young girls hand following her to her car. I know that I would have really appreciated someone’s help if I were in her shoes. I think our society needs to have more empathy. We all need to accept each other’s help. Part of God’s plan is to live as good stewards. I know that it surely takes a village to raise a child!!

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