True story as told on a podcast I heard a few weeks ago:
A woman was involved in a unnerving but physically harmless car accident while driving home from work this past Summer. After taking a moment to get herself together, she gets out of the car and meets another woman of about the same age who is verbally apologetic and somewhat frantic. She nervously explains that her daughter recently got her license and without a doubt made the mistake that caused the accident. The woman listens closely then asks, “May I see your daughter?” The women take the short walk to the driver’s side of the other car, where the teenage girl is crying with her hands over her face. The woman says, “Come out.” The girl looks up, then follows her request, easing out of the car, still crying. The woman gets close, closer, and finally wraps her arms around the girl. The girl’s tears begin flowing even more freely and, after a second, she hugs the woman back. A little while passes before they release the embrace. The woman turns towards the girl’s mother who is now sobbing harder than her daughter. She asks if she is ok, and the mother replies, “Yes…..it’s just that….she doesn’t hug anyone. She hasn’t hugged anyone since she was in the 3rd grade. Thank you.”
This is a compassion packed story. When it was first reported, it was told from the viewpoint of the woman driver showing compassion towards the young girl. And this is easy to see. My favorite part about that portion of the story is how she took a moment in the car. Before getting out to see what happened, to see who did what, she paused. This is that mindful pause you will hear meditation and dharma teachers talking about in lectures. It’s a practiced pause. Because she was in the habit of centering herself, coming back to herself, she was able to do it in a time of distress. And from that centered place, she got out of the car to meet the world. What a difference a pause makes! Can you imagine how the story would be otherwise had she just rushed out of the car to encounter a blabbering victim of a mother? Still shaken, slightly confused, worried about her safety, her insurance, being late for dinner — the mind has this way of making the mountains out of molehills, and volcanoes out of mountains! So she paused. She came back to her practice and her dedication to be kindness, compassion and taking responsibility for the next moment. I love that part of the story.
But then the mother shows compassion for the driver and her daughter. She’s already out of the car, ready to take the blame, ready to stand in between an unknown possible aggressor and her already shaken child. She didn’t know what she would meet when she got out of the car, but her heart was open just enough to present for whatever may happen. And what happens? The woman says “May I see your daughter?” This request came from the depths of her practice — she was not asking as the person who was just in a car accident. Instead she was asking as someone who cared and because it came from this place, the mother led her over to the car. Again, can you imagine how different that request would look had the mother not been centered. A hectic driver rushing out of a car to meet a frantic mother saying “May I see your daughter?” Yeah, that probably would not have worked out as well.
So they walked over to the car to find the teenager crying and HIDING behind her hands. The woman makes another request, “Come out,” and once again her words are accepted and well received. This illustrates something huge for me. The power of our words are infused with the intention of our hearts. This woman rooted herself in compassion and consequently spoke from the place. There was no threatening hint and no command that gives the option of refusal. Simply “Come out.” When you’re hiding behind your pain, it is nice to have someone around who tells you to “come out.” When your heart has been walled off from the world, protected from betrayal and further scarring, what a relief it is to come across that person who will say “come out” in a way that your heart responds “Yes.” When you hate yourself, your life, your circumstances, and just generally the way things are, what is it like to hear God’s voice: “Come Out.” This is how I wish to speak; this is my entire healing practice. To speak in such a way that those around me do not have to hide or be afraid. To speak with the kind authority, so neither of us are confused about the truth of our beauty in that moment. She said “Come out,” and the girl left the safety of her hiding space and the comfort of her car to face what was in front of her.
And then they hugged. This is probably the height of the woman’s compassion, the climax of her part of the tale. Up until now, her actions, her words, her very demeanor could have been misinterpreted. She could have been a really calm mean person who was going to unleash hell and fire on this reckless little girl. But she turns out to be exactly the one they had been responding to during this brief encounter. When she wrapped her arms around the girl, she sealed the deal. “It’s ok. You’re ok. Nothing is wrong right now.”
I freaking love this story.
The woman didn’t hold out her arms and give the girl a choice. She didn’t say empty words that would lose their strength across the depths of time and space between she and the other driver. She moved in, ‘close, closer.” She went to her and finished off her wall.
And what a great wall it was! The great wall of china has nothing on this girl’s emotional wall. I can only imagine what would have had to happen in her life where she decided, at the tender age of 8 or 9, to give up on hugging. What is that life?! The fact that she’s not hugging tells you enough about this girl. She’s no different from the rest of us in that she’s been hurt, but the difference may be that she’s carrying that hurt around as an identity. She’s NOT going to let it happen again. She’s been in so much so much control over her world that getting in a fender bender leads to a possible emotional breakdown on the side of the road. She literally couldn’t handle making that mistake. She was sad, and angry at herself, and worried, and possibly desperate to get out of the situation. There was no way she would have been able to take down that wall on her own. Had the lady held out her arms, there would have been no response. Had she verbalized what she was thinking, “Don’t worry, things like this happen, it’s ok,” the words would have fallen flat on the bricks upon bricks of protection the girl had built over the years.
I like to believe that on some level the woman knew that only action would heal this moment. So she moved in, “close, closer, and finally wraps her arms around the girl.” And the girl was touched; despite her best efforts for the past 10 years, someone had gotten through. The thing about our compassion and vulnerability is that no matter how strong of a wall we build, no matter how long it lasts, it’s still just a wall. It’s not the real thing. It’s not who we are. We are the lovers, the dancers, the life givers. We are peace and peaceful, caring and kind. Sometimes it takes the call (“Come Out”) to stir it up in us again, and sometimes it takes the touch to break down all of those walls.
She was touched. But the rest was up to her. Compassion is just as significant when it is received as when it is given. Life is going to provide us with continual opportunities to open up. At times it will take the drastic form of a car accident; at times it will be as simple as picking up the phone when it rings. You never know when Life is going to say “Come Out.” She responded to compassion with compassion. She returned the hug. It was that simple, and now she is no longer the girl who doesn’t hug people. She is no longer enslaved behind that wall. Her work has just begun, of course, once we open to these barriers it takes effort to completely bring them down. But the fact that she turned towards this compassionate act gives me hope for her eventual release.
Then finally we return to the mother. She has witnessed this whole thing unfold, to her credit not stepping in at any point with things like: “maybe it’s best if she stays in the car,” or “oh she doesn’t hug people, please don’t do that.” She watched and let it happen — and her reaction? She could have been jealous, startled, or upset that her daughter would hug this stranger but has been emotionally starving her for the past 10 years. She could have tried to get in on that hug since all of a sudden hugs are available to her little girl. But instead she reached into her bag of compassion and felt grateful, appreciative, happy, and touched by what just happened. This, too, is compassion.
I could say a lot more about this story, but I’d rather hear your thoughts. Where do you see other examples of compassion? Can you relate to any of the women here? Do you have barriers built against the love that you are?