Mother’s story picked up where she’d left off, “As the little girl rocked her new baby, she remembered the story of baby Jesus and how His mother wrapped Him tightly to keep Him warm. Realizing she had no blanket, the little girl took her dolly to the fire, where she could warm her. Just like a real mother, the little girl cradled, caressed, and sang her newborn to sleep.
“What the little girl didn’t know was that the small, baby doll was made out of a very flammable substance, like the transparency used in film negatives. As she soothed her celluloid baby near the heat, her fragile doll suddenly disintegrated in her hands.”
I was horrified, imagining how I would have felt. “What happened to it? Where did it go?”
Mother murmured, “Once she got hot, it dissolved into nothing.”
Stunned, I couldn’t imagine such a tragedy on Christmas. “So, her parents got her another one, right?” I pleaded, as my eyes filled with tears.
“No, sweetheart. She didn’t get another doll that year. You see, her parent’s were poor and they could hardly afford the few gifts they had given.”
As the tears flooded my face, I was immobilized by this heart-breaking Christmas story. ”What happened to the little girl? Is she okay? Where is she now?”
Mother smiled. “She cried, but her Mama held her, and her sisters readily shared their gifts with her. Remember Kandy, that was long ago. The little girl grew up and now she has two daughters of her own.” And then after the penetrable pause that I came to know so well in my mother’s stories, she added, “That little girl was me.”
Compassion flooded me like never before. I looked anew at this woman seated in front of me. She too had once been a little girl. I saw her tenderness, her simplicity, and her vulnerability. Mother became flesh to me that day. She was a person, not just a parent, and I had stepped through the looking glass into her past.
As class time ended, I held Mother’s hand and we walked into the Sunday evening service together. I cried throughout our pastor’s entire message. Not because of his words, but because I experienced empathy for the first time. Like the breath of our Creator puffing life into Adam, mother’s story breathed life into her childhood. As I experienced the miracle, my own self-absorbed world inhaled a little as well.
I learned a life principle that day. Grieving with someone else enlarges your soul. Although the pathway to empathy is narrow, it takes an enlarged heart to have the energy for the first step. Most choose not to take the detour, as listening with empathy is an exit that requires lots of stops along the way.
Compassion is a road chosen by few. Sharing pain doesn’t half the sorrow, but doubles it. Tenuous and tedious, the road to mercy requires a exploration of heart, not just an exposition of words. I know because I listened that day my mother’s story came to life.
My mother and sister, Kay in the back. Danny (my nephew, Kay’s son) and I in the front.