I had a three distinct, consecutive experiences the other day that got me thinking about tolerance, understanding, and compassion.
#2 has had her learner's permit for two weeks. She is doing very, very well. However, she is still learning. It's why they don't just hand out licenses to kids on their birthdays. One of the things that is hard to do is to determine how much time you have to merge or turn into traffic. Because #2 is also still figuring out how much and when to accelerate, we are leaving very large buffers in car lengths when merging onto a busy road. That day we were sitting at a yield sign waiting for enough space when the guy behind us apparently decided that she'd missed some opportunities to go and honked. That sort of impatience is hard enough for me to blow off when I'm the driver, but when it's my kid, mama-bear began to emerge. I really wanted to let this guy have a piece of my mind. "Give my kid a break! She's been driving for two weeks! Come and see me in 7 years when your kid there starts to drive!" Of course, I couldn't do it. But man, did I ever want to.
We got to our destination, which was a frozen yogurt place, and ordered our last-day-of-summer treats. When #3 finished hers, she dumped her trash into a very small waste bin that was clearly intended for sample cups. Not the end of the world, but to avoid having my family fill the bin unnecessarily I mentioned to #1 that when she was finished she ought to use the bigger bin by the door. In response #1 threw a fit. She started yelling that she never used small trash cans and why was I telling her to use the big one--it was #3 who used the wrong can. She went on, and I tried to calm her down a little, but it's sometimes best just to drop it and let her tirade run it's course. As frequently happens in these cases, we got stared at by a woman who was also there with her teenage kids. It's not obvious by looking at #1 that she is mentally handicapped. And the sight of an almost 17 year old throwing a toddler-style fit is not pretty. I get that. But I always feel torn between wishing I could explain and feeling resentful that I should have to explain in order to have some grace extended to my child. So I (not very maturely) stared right back at the woman until she turned back around.
After dropping the kids home I needed to run to the store for school lunch supplies for the next morning. (I firmly believe in getting things done waaay in advance.) On the way, my gas started acting weirdly. I was loosing momentum and was getting ready to pull over to the shoulder just past a 4-way stop when my (11 month old) car died entirely. This left me without steering, so all I could do was coast to the stop-sign. I immediately turned on my hazards and literally within about 20 seconds two guys had each hopped out of their vehicles to help me push the car to the side of the road. I called Larry for help, and while I waited for him to arrive about every 5th car to pass during this rush-hour time asked if I needed help or a phone or gas or if help was on it's way. It was exceptional. Most of these folks were probably on their way home from being gone all day and yet were willing to take time to potentially give more time to help a stranger.
Standing there on the side of the road, I started to think about the difference between these situations and how others responded to my family and I. It wasn't hard to pinpoint. It all came down to the hazard lights. People instantly knew that I was in distress. They responded as I believe most of us would. There's no 14-year-old-new-driver light for my car. There's no severe-mental-retardation light for my daughter. And it didn't take long for me to think of the fact that perhaps there was a light that the impatient driver behind me was wishing he could flash, so that I could understand his mood or sense of urgency. Sure, he could have extended some compassion, but then so could have I toward him in return.
We never know who's husband is chronically ill, or who is care-giving a mother with cancer. Who battles anxiety, or who has kids with special needs. It might be me. But it might be the woman eating yogurt at the table next to me, or the guy driving a car behind me. And if it's not any of those concerns, it could very well be something else.
I love the LDS hymn "Lord, I Would Follow Thee." One of the verses sings,
Who am I to judge another when I walk imperfectly?And in the next,
In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can't see.
I would be my brother's keeper; I would learn the healer's art.
To the wounded and the weary, I would show a gentle heart.
It's that gentle heart that all of us yearn for as we muddle through life. And it's the gentle heart that many of us, myself most definitely included, need to practice giving more freely.