Lesson from my mother: Compassion

mom“I remember that day like it was yesterday,” my mom told me. “I was eleven – in fifth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Hansen, was teaching about pronouns when the principal walked into our classroom and called me out. He didn’t say a word as we walked through the hallway; I had no idea what was going on.

“And then I walked into the office and saw Mother sitting there. Her eyes were bright red and tears were slowly rolling down her cheeks. ‘Father just died,’ she told me. The world fell out from under my feet that day.”

Grandma suddenly found herself as a single mother with three girls. She had always depended upon her husband to provide food for the family, but that came to an end the day he had a stroke and died. Grandma had no idea how to run the family furniture store, so she sold it and scrambled to find another way to support her family.

The day my mother told me this story, I was complaining about all the moochers in society. I had done exactly as my parents urged and gone to college to be trained as a teacher so I wouldn’t end up like Grandma, scrambling to put food on the table. I awoke early every morning and went to school to work with my students. I worked hard and was a conscientious teacher – not like those moochers in society who expected food stamps and welfare payments handed to them on a silver platter. I was proud of my work ethic.

“Mother started scrubbing floors and doing whatever she could to provide for us,” my mom continued. “It was hard. I remember how she used to try so hard to make what little money she earned stretch… Do you remember the one time you ate beans, Nancy?” Mom asked. “You would have been eight at the time.”

“I love beans, but don’t remember eating them when I was a kid.”

“You ate them once as you were growing up. Just once. That day… the day I cooked that pot of beans was one of the hardest days of my adult life. After Father died, Mother cooked beans for us nearly every day. In my mind, beans were what you ate when you were poor and I swore I would never do that to my children if there was any possible way I could afford meat.

bean jar“That day I cooked beans… it was shortly after we moved to Idaho. We didn’t have the money for the move, but Daddy had a much better job here than in North Dakota, so we put the whole move on credit in order to make a better life for you kids. Once we were here, we knew the paychecks would start to come in, but they hadn’t yet. And you kids were hungry so I swallowed my pride and cooked beans for dinner. I remember standing in the kitchen crying, thinking how I had failed you; how I made you eat beans.”

“At least you didn’t expect the government to bail you out,” I countered. “At least you had enough pride to do what you had to rather than expecting someone else to come save you.”

“Remember about compassion, Nancy,” Mom said quietly. “You don’t know what their situation is. I don’t know if Mother received assistance from the government or not, but I wouldn’t judge her if she did. Her life circumstances were radically different from what she had planned. There was no way to know Father would suddenly die of a stroke. Don’t judge until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

I thought about this conversation with my mother after reading this on a friend’s Facebook page the other day: “If Barack Obama gets reelected, we will know a very disturbing thing about America. And I mean VERY DISTURBING. We will know that moochers have overtaken producers in number.”

I can only assume the person behind this comment assumes everyone supporting Obama is a moocher. We’re lazy, good-for-nothing scumbags who expect the government to hand us food, clothing, and shelter. We’re not willing to make an honest living, but are more than happy to allow others to work for us.

To that poster, I can only say, “Remember the words of my mother. Remember about compassion. Maybe, just maybe, her sole breadwinner just died of a stroke and that mom is standing alone with her three children. Maybe, just maybe, that mother ate her pride and cooked beans for her children. Maybe she turned to the government to help her buy those beans. Don’t judge. Be compassionate.”

compassion

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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8 Responses to Lesson from my mother: Compassion

  1. anonymous October 8, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    Or maybe it would mean that the majority of Americans are producers who want to share with the ‘moochers’ so that everyone can be well.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @anonymous,

    …and wouldn’t that be awesome???

    [Reply]

  2. ladyfleur October 8, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    I’m not the 1% but let’s just say I’m the 5%. So I guess most people would say I’m a producer, not moocher. But most times I feel like the people cleaning my hotel room or washing dishes in my chic-chic restaurant work a lot harder than I do. And if they’re working to support families, they need all the help they can get.

    If the number of moochers (people who struggle) are outnumbering the producers (people who aren’t struggling) I think that it’s a measure of the opportunity that our country affords people of little means and that we have enough folks (like me) who have achieved a standard of living high enough that they can afford to help others.

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @ladyfleur, Very true. We are so very fortunate and can quite easily afford to help others who are struggling. I don’t get it when people are so selfish that they can’t have compassion for those less fortunate.

    [Reply]

  3. Charu October 9, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    Compassion is a premium commodity these days, and what a pity. We have achieved so much technogically, but emotionally we have fallen way behind. Neat post!

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Charu, That’s exactly how I’m feeling. Maybe part of the reason I feel this so intensely is because I’ve lived overseas most of my adult life, but geez – it seems like people are so judgmental!

    [Reply]

  4. Jon October 13, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    I’m all for compassion and helping others. Every year I give a decent percentage of my income to individuals in need and to charities. I don’t give as much as Romney (about 30%), but I do give more than Obama (about 1%). When I hear people talk about helping others in need I often wonder how much of their OWN money they contribute. Is it more compassionate for me to give out of my own wallet or to give like the government does? That is, take someone else’s money and give it away, while pretending like I’m extremely charitable?

    [Reply]

    Nancy Reply:

    @Jon, I think it’s a balance. One of the great things about our country is that people don’t starve to death. I’ve lived in countries where that’s not the case and I don’t want to see the USA go down the line of those other places. Yes, we need to be compassionate with our own pocketbooks, but we also need to be compassionate at the government level.

    [Reply]

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