I first stayed with the M family three years ago. I was seven months pregnant and had just learned my mom had cancer. I was a wreck, but the M family was so gracious and loving with me, a stranger, that I hardly felt like one. I was grateful for their grace.
Two nights ago, I got a massage that was routine until the moment the masseuse began massaging my scalp. I was catapulted back in time to a moment I recalled on Facebook:
Some years ago, I was getting my hair cut when an older lady came in and paid a nearby stylist to rub her scalp. I was repulsed by the lesions that covered her head.
“How do you do that?” I asked the stylist after the lady had left. “It’s so gross.”
“I wear gloves,” she replied simply. My question warranted no further reply.
Tonight I remember this but cannot for the life of me remember why I cared so damned much about the state of someone else’s head and who would or would not touch it. I wish everyone, everywhere, could experience as much loving touch as they desire without fear, grimaces, or exchange of money.
I wondered when I had changed, as if there was one single moment of transformation. Facebook comments helped me point my thoughts the right direction, and I found my answer before too long:
The single biggest compassion-building experience of my life was having my mom become “that crazy bag lady” digging through downtown trash cans for food and knick-knacks. Being the daughter of that lady made it so much easier to understand that every “crazy bag lady” is a human being loved and missed by someone, somewhere.
I awakened in the morning to find my sister Rache had added her own moving thoughts on the matter:
“When I first saw Mom going through the trash, my heart broke. Then there were times when I saw her walking down the street, muttering to herself, and I wanted to stop and talk to her, but I was so afraid… I don’t know of what. Thankfully, I decided, screw it, I don’t care what people think of me, if they know I’m the daughter of the crazy bag lady who picks up cigarette butts and talks to squirrels. She’s my crazy bag lady. And once she remembered who I was, she remembered she loved me. And then I understood compassion doesn’t care about the dirt on the other person’s shoes, the grime on their hands, or their ragged clothes. Compassion doesn’t care if you get dirty while you’re hugging someone, or what other people will think if they know the people you love are broken. Compassion is love, and overpowering even that love, it is acceptance. Pure and simple.”
These discussions were far from my mind as Anthony, Li’l D and I drove south to visit the M family and our also-visiting friends Dave and Elsha. But when I awakened at 3 a.m. to the sound of rain, everything blended together. I’d grown up to the sound of rain eight months annually, so the sound of rain already carries me back home no matter where I am. In this house particularly, it amplified my sense of home. I drifted back to sleep, smiling and content in the presence of those (mostly) not my blood who welcome me with open arms at my best and my worst.
These people are my family, and in their presence, I am home.
As I write this post on scrap paper at the M family’s dining room table, Li’l D and his friend Buzz are hunched over an iPad together, playing “Trucks.” Anthony and Elsha are eating Elsha’s homemade guacamole. Dave and the M family parents are doing their parts to make chili for lunch. I watch and I listen, and as my hand cramps from this writing, my heart expands at the thought of all the love that fills my life.
Three years ago, when I first set foot in this house, Buzz was just a tiny baby and Li’l D was two months from meeting my arms. I feared then that my family, already small, would soon grow smaller.
In this moment, it is as clear as day that while my family has changed, it is not because it has grown smaller. My mom lives on in my heart, and the family that lives on in this outer world has grown even stronger.
Change is inevitable. So, too, in the company of family of choice, is the certainty love will help me weather it.
This was among posts accidentally deleted from this blog.