Normally our weekly service challenge happens every Thursday. But today, along with 1000 other bloggers, I am raising my voice and speaking for compassion. And this time, our service challenge begins with a story. This story is about a woman who exemplifies the word “compassion” more than anyone I’ve ever met.
It’s a story that makes me laugh, cry, and want to be a better person.
I hope, in a small way, it does the same for you.
Once upon a time, there were two 10-year-old girls. They were names Anna and Dorothy. Anna was, at the time, an only child, and Dorothy was the only daughter in her family. They became fast friends … and soon, less like friends and more like sister.
Their families began spending time together – although they were very different from each other, a mutual respect, admiration, and love developed between them. And the girls giggled and plotted and schemed and dreamed … wouldn’t it be great if they got to be actual sisters someday?
Dorothy’s older brother was 5 years older than the giggly girls. Anna was smitten. David was … not. He was kind to his little sister’s best friend, but she was … well … his little sister’s best friend. But the girls dreamed on, and their wonderful friendship developed.
Fast forward several years. David enlisted in the Army and left home. When he returned, he found that his little sister’s best friend had changed. She was a young woman. She had matured. She was beautiful.
At David and Anna’s wedding, there came a slightly awkward moment. Everyone was seated in the chapel. The groom stood at the front of the room. The guests were waiting. The bride and bridesmaid were … not coming down the aisle.
Where were they?
They were hugging each other, squealing, bouncing up and down in the hall in their puffy dresses and yelling, “We DID it! We DID it! We GOT HIM!”
If I didn’t know how much Anna loved Dave, I might be a little sorry for him.
But I know how much Anna loved Dave – and still loves him. I know how much Dave loved Anna – and still loves her. Because Dave and Anna are my grandparents. And Dorothy was, in every sense of the word, my great aunt.
Now I want to tell you a bit more about Dorothy that will explain the love I had for her. From her childhood, she possessed a unique gift – she was always, always looking for someone to love and to serve. She loved to perform, and her animated personality made her one of the most popular girls at school. But when it came time to go on field trips and everyone would pile on the school bus, she didn’t head to the back to have fun with the other popular kids. She would look around and find an empty seat beside a shy, quiet student who was sitting alone. She would sit there and laugh and joke and create memories. She would transform that bus experience for the lonely child.
I imagine, to the lonely students she joined, she was their angel.
That pretty well sums up Aunt Dorothy.
Her entire life, she dealt with serious health challenges and pain. She always, always hurt. There was always something wrong. But from the smile that was always radiating on her face, you’d never know. I often wondered how she did it. After dealing with a fair amount of pain of my own these past few years, several times I called her – hesitant to bother her – and always found a listening ear, sympathy, and that even more precious gift of empathy. She mourned with me when I had to make the decision to have a hysterectomy. She cried with me when I wept into the phone, telling her how I just didn’t feel like I could live with the pain one more day. And never – not once – did she make any kind of comment to remind me that her pain was worse, her life was harder, her trials were heavier. She loved me and wanted me to be happy, and she did everything in her power to support me.
And that is how she lived for EVERYone.
But how did she do it?
My dad helped put into words what I couldn’t express adequately. Aunt Dorothy KNEW that she was (and is) a child of God. She KNEW that you are too. And so when she met you, it was like a joyous reunion with a long-lost sibling. She couldn’t wait to hold your hand and look into your eyes and hear about your life. She wanted to know you. She wasn’t just kind – she genuinely loved everyone she met. And with that love filling up her heart, she couldn’t help but pour it out to every person that she met.
This past week, Aunt Dorothy returned Home to her Father in Heaven. For those of us still here, there was shock and heartbreak. Her children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, great-nieces and nephews, childhood friends, adult friends, people who barely knew her … we booked flights and jumped in cars. We flocked to California to mourn and to celebrate her life.
As I saw her sweet, frail little body, lying so still and peaceful, I spoke with her daughters and they told me how much they loved her beautiful hands. I asked if she liked having her fingernails painted (which they weren’t at the time), and the girls told me no, she was allergic to fingernail polish.
That little fact, for some reason, moved me deeply. This kind woman who had spent her life doing so much for others – including giving birth to four children, when she had been told it was almost impossible to even have one – had spent nearly every moment on this Earth struggling with the limitations of her body. She couldn’t paint her nails. She couldn’t wear much jewelry. She couldn’t be around fresh flowers. She couldn’t walk without pain, or sit without pain, or dance without pain. Her whole life, her body held her back.
But she kept loving and serving anyway.
Friends, this is compassion. To forget yourself, and to go about loving and serving everyone you meet like a long-lost brother or sister.
This is compassion.
This was – and is – my Aunt Dorothy.
So this week, as I raise my voice with 1000 others to speak for compassion, I wanted to share her story with you. And this week, as you go about meeting new people and serving in your homes and doing your jobs and reaching out in your community, I want you to keep one thought in mind: Forget yourself, and go about loving and serving everyone you meet like a long-lost brother or sister.
I don’t know exactly what this week’s service challenge will look like for you. It’s not quite as straightforward as “spread quarters around town” or “thank a fireman“. But this is what it will look like for me.
I rarely paint my fingernails. But this week, in honor of my precious aunt who couldn’t, I painted my fingernails – light blue, her favorite color. Light blue is now, for me, the color of compassion. And as this color catches my eye all week, I will smile.
I will remember to forget myself and to choose kindness.
I will remember compassion.
I will remember Aunt Dorothy.