Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2013 Nancy Virden
“I like your hairbrush. I need one like that.”
“Oh, it’s a good one alright.” I looked at her face surrounded by thick dark strands. It was straining, not from tension or worry, but pressing against despair to hope just a bit. Her body language was nervous. She was not begging for me to give her my brush, rather she was unable to believe it could happen.
Still, in her eyes was a child – even though the woman had to be in her forties. She had earlier stated she sensed something was different about me, and perhaps in the faintest of longings she believed someone was here who might love her enough to give her a gift, and meet her need.
“You can have it, let me wash it out for you,” I said, handing it over.
She hugged it. I mean, she actually hugged a used hairbrush. Walking away, beginning to run it through her locks, she said with tears, “I will never forget you. Thank you.”
I know she won’t, because I will never forget her. Sometimes when I brush my hair I still recall the years-old memory and say a prayer for the beaten-down, lonely fellow patient I met during one of my stays on a psychiatric ward. I hope she is doing the same for me.
Within one month, in the year of 2002, my mother and mother-in-law died of cancer. Within another eighteen months, my father-in-law passed away. Cleaning up two estates was an enormous job, which required my sons and me to be away from home intermittently for long periods.
Having lived with my mother the two weeks before she died, and forced by her landlord to clean out the house within three weeks after her death, my typically flexible children were weepy as we once again left our home for what had been hers. It would be three hours in the car plus a hard day’s work before returning to our beds.
Stress levels had topped the charts. My sons missed their dog, their friends, and normalcy. I was overwhelmed with grief, the burden of caring for everyone else, and the deadline. I called my mother’s sister who had offered to help in any way she could, and she agreed to join us.
Aunt Jeannette did help with packing up, but much more importantly she initiated play, giving my boys and me permission to relax and not think heavy thoughts for awhile. She insisted the work could wait, and I began to believe it myself. She would not want me to tell you what we did that had us all laughing to the point of weakness; let it suffice to say we had a “rolling good time.” I still believe she saved us from meltdowns.
She was thirteen years old, and was to perform her first vocal solo in two weeks. The clothes she wore were ragged and dreary. They looked like they belonged to someone smaller, with no style. Her personality was effervescent in contrast, and she looked eagerly, albeit nervously, toward the upcoming opportunity. Still, as any thirteen year-old female would under these circumstances, she wondered what she would wear.
At a party years earlier, someone had asked the school choir director’s wife what person, alive or dead, she admired most. She named Dorcas (or Tabitha in some newer versions of the New Testament), whose death was mourned because she had been extraordinarily kind to others. Part of Dorcas’ gift to the world was to sew clothing for the poor.
Inspired by Dorcas, the choir director’s wife, who was also a seamstress, asked around and learned the latest high school styles, Tammy’s favorite colors, and clothing and shoes sizes. A few days before Tammy’s début, a package appeared on her doorstep.
Seeing her name on it, Tammy couldn’t have been more curious. Out of the box came a white short-sleeve polka-dotted top and matching skirt. Red jelly shoes and a necklace of two-inch beads accented it perfectly. At the time, gaudy belts were all the rage. Naturally, this outfit sported a red one.
Tammy was in awe, and wondered if her hope could come true – would it all fit? She was amazed that not only was she able to wear it, it was custom-made just for her. The coming concert night seemed even more glorious!
Standing with confidence, facing over a hundred parents and school peers, Tammy sang with strength. A community learned there was more to this young woman than her appearance. No doubt this is a memory Tammy carries with her, and the legacy of Dorcas continues.
The random kindnesses of a selfless woman 2000 years ago changed a corner of this modern world for the better.
Acts of random kindness built lifelong concerned prayers for a stranger, created happy memories in the middle of pain, moved mountains of prejudice, and allowed a girl to step onto the stage of life with her head held high. Though an act may seem small, the sacrifice of having done it at all changes the score in the war between good and evil.
More than anything, random acts of kindness change the giver. For it is not the receiver who gains the most joy. It is the softened, wiser heart, that through practice has learned to embrace compassion as a purpose for life.
NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
- sewing pic by Christine Landis on rgbstock.com