From time to time I would chat with Mrs. A. while waiting for Peggy. Unsure that she was a Christian (she attended a different church than I did), I would try to help God along a bit by explaining how to know for sure she was going to heaven. Mrs. A. was always very nice, but firm. “Now, Heidi, go downstairs with Peg. I’ve got my church, and you have yours.” I always did what she said. I knew better than to talk back to an adult.
The winter after I graduated from high school, I was in a bad car accident. Hospitalized and bedridden for over a month, I grew more and more depressed. Friends came by and brought cheery cards and flowers, but all I wanted was a shower. My hair was dirty and stringy, and I felt gross all over.
Then one morning the door to my room opened and in walked Mrs. A. I was surprised that Peggy’s mother even knew I was in the hospital I had been out of touch with her daughter since Peggy had left for college the previous fall. “Mrs. A! What are you doing here?”
Smiling, Mrs. A. went into the bathroom and got a basin. Taking a garbage bag from her purse, she pushed back the covers from my bed and arranged it and the basin under my left shin. Then she squirted my leg with a can of shaving cream, rubbed it around, and carefully shaved me from my ankle to my knee. It was glorious.
Pouring a little water into the basin, she swished the razor around to get rid of the hair, then bent over her task again. First one leg, then the other, chatting amiably the whole time. When she was done, she lowered the head of my bed and rigged another contraption so she could wash and blow-dry my hair. Then, as a final touch, she painted my nails a cheery pink fingers and toes. For the first time in a month, I felt like a human being. Admiring my newly pinked fingernails, I asked her, “What made you think of this, Mrs. A?”
“Oh, I know what it feels like not to be able to reach your toes. I figured you might need a little help. That’s what it’s all about, right? ‘Love one another.’”
A pang of guilt hit me. How could I have doubted that she loved God? Mrs. A. had shown me more kindness in a half-hour than I had shown her in two years. But she just brushed aside my apologies. “Here. Have a little ice cream.” And from her magic bag she pulled out a pint of my favorite lemon sherbet and soon the world was right again.
Compassion is a virtue that takes seriously the reality of other persons, their inner lives, their emotions, as well as their external circumstances. It is an active disposition toward fellowship and sharing, toward supportive companionship in distress or in woe.
William Bennett, The Book of Virtues
Heidi Hess Saxton is the author of With Mary in Prayer (Loyola). She is a graduate student (theology) at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and lives with her husband Craig and two foster children in Milan, Michigan. You may contact Heidi at firstname.lastname@example.org.