Last week I learned something about compassion from my daughter. I was driving to Costco; the home of buying everything in bulk even that which you will never use. There is this really long light the way I go that takes you like three changes (green, yellow, red, repeat) to get through. Usually at this point in the car ride I am promising all sorts of magical things like free samples of food to Anni who is protesting being strapped into her seat of torture in the backseat. But not this day, there was actual relative peace in the car as we approached the long light. There we sat, me distracted with the to-do list I had to accomplish and Anni happily dancing along to her CD and munching on goldfish crackers waiting for the light to change yet again. A woman with a small frame bundled up in a man’s oversized coat walked along the middle of the road with a sign of cardboard that read “homeless & hungry.” a familar site in Chicago and across the country. She carried a cup for collecting change and after checking my back seat for a box of granola bars I keep for just such requests I rolled down my window and asked her if she wanted some food. She quickly sped towards my outstretched hand and thanked me saying “bless you” and I rolled up my window with no more thought. I did not pray for her or think about how difficult her situation must be, I simply gave something and figured I did what I should have done. After I rolled up the window I turned to see Anni staring inquisitively at the woman who was now running toward the side of the road as the light was changing again. I told Annikah that she did not have a nice place to live like us and she was hungry and cold so Mama gave her some food to eat. She seemed very interested in my explanation of the woman’s situation and even repeated “cold”. I always talk to Anni about everything we see, I think it is because, well, I like to talk and regardless of whether she wants to hear it or even understands I babble on and on at her during our day giving her my take on what happens all around us. Today she understood more than I what I had explained.
We moved up about 3 cars and were still waiting to turn left and the woman came back down the middle of the road again. As she approached our car she smiled and waved at me and then Annikah started frantically banging her goldfish snack trap against the window. I turned and she grunted at me and banged again as if she wanted me to roll down the window for her. It took me a minute to even register that she had heard me and she wanted to share her crackers with the woman. Maybe she was just mimicking me but I felt as if her little chubby face read that she was truly concerned that someone was hungry and cold and she wanted to help. I gleaned something about compassion from Annikah. I gave something that frankly I did not need or want almost out of a sense of duty or social responsibility. Anni saw a person and really looked at her and responded by wanting to give something that she wanted, that in fact she treasures (goldfish and the toddler have a special relationship). She did not care how she became homeless (or whether she even was). She responded in a pure way, a way unblemished by living life, unhardened to human struggle and I cried. I loved her even more in that moment and it reminds me that I am raising a special little girl.