Archives for December 2012

A lesson from a wise mother

[Note: This is a guest post from my dear friend Martha Carapetyan about her wonderful mother Cherry Carapetyan]

When I was about 7 years old, I had a memorable experience while spending an afternoon with my mother in her job at the Austin State School.  She had recently been hired to run the Foster Grandparent program at the state school.  The  program was an outreach effort that brought senior citizens together with clients at the school in a volunteering/mentoring role.

Martha and Cherry Carapetyan

Directing the program utilized Mom’s ample gifts and passions: her tremendous energy, her trailblazing attitudes toward the treatment of vulnerable people in our midst, and her ambitious desire to do an excellent job of whatever she was hired to do.

The man in the wagon

We were in a large common room with many clients of varying ages. I remember becoming aware of a young man, a client.  He was not ambulatory.  In fact, he was in a Red Rider wagon, the kind with the wooden slats on the sides.  He was tall like a grown-up, but impossibly thin.  He was wrapped in a flannel blanket and wearing almost nothing – just some sort of diaper, as I recall.

When he saw Mom he became highly agitated and began to cry and yell and whine.  I could not understand him and he was frightening me.  Mom got down close to his wagon.  She put her hand on his head and stroked his hair.  She was loving this young man!

He was beside himself with joy, pure and unbounded.  Mom was his universe in this moment, and she did not hold back.  She lavished love on him, talked to him, laughed with him.  To me, he was Other; yet she embraced him.

A million questions

I don’t suppose the exchange could have lasted more than a minute or two.  I think we left soon after that to go home, and probably I had a million questions and she answered most of them.  Like most parents, she likely answered them in triplicate, telling me more than I could absorb or understand. He was just like me, she said, but his brain had not been able to develop.

I don’t remember that anything she said made much of an impression.  Her actions were what I remembered forever.

The memory has been set on my soul so deeply that it is cornerstone.  I was young and scared of someone I did not understand.  My mom, who I knew loved me, loved this impossible person.  She touched him and cooed and laughed with him.  She did not talk sternly to him, or talk down to him.  She treated him with humor and dignity and just the right amount of fussing over.

A touchstone experience

That is how I learned compassion when I was too young to understand the words about compassion.  I never forgot that lesson, and I saw it repeated many times by my mother in the years that followed.  She could be a stern and demanding parent, sometimes critical to a fault.  I was shaped by those experiences as well.  But this lesson in showing compassion is etched in high relief and shaped my soul in ways I am only beginning to understand.

Like most children, I put this memory away on a shelf in my mind for safe-keeping, to be taken out and dusted off as I made my way into the adult world years later.  I found that the world was full of people from different cultures, with different abilities and needs.

The memory of seeing my vivacious, confident mother show such lavish affection and acceptance to someone I did not know how to understand became part of my story.  When I found myself amongst people who startled me with their different behavior and needs, I often found I was able to go straight to the heart of the matter: one human sharing an experience with another human.