A Lack of Compassion Can Be as Vulgar as an Excess of Tears

source: zap2it.com

source: zap2it.com 

So says the Dowager on one of my favorite shows, “Downton Abbey.” Lady Violet delivered this line to her apparently unfeeling granddaughter, Lady Mary, just this week here in the U.S, with her usual dry nonchalance. She does that, Lady Violet: her sharp blue eyes and nothing-fazes-me demeanor belie her soft heart, kindness and universal knowledge of the inner workings of the world.

On “Downton,” Lady Violet’s off-the-cuff gems are almost a character unto themselves, and are as much a draw for me as the plot itself, but this line struck me more than her others.

At this point, Lady Mary, the cold granddaughter had displayed such selfish, unsympathetic behavior toward her sister, complete with eye rolls and nose in the air. “Ohmygd what a bitch!” I exclaimed in disbelief. Apparently Granny felt the same way, for it was then that she proffered the line of the night and shut Lady Mary, and me, up.

Her delivery was impeccable, of course, but it was her words themselves that echoed in my veins for the rest of the evening and week:

“My dear. A lack of compassion can be as vulgar as an excess of tears.”

I don’t agree that an excess of tears can be vulgar (I’ve come to appreciate how wonderfully fulfilling a good cry can be), but Lady Mary’s absence of kindness, sympathy, concern, empathy at the very least, was most definitely offensive to me.

As I go about my daily life, I don’t usually think about what compassion means, but Mary’s unappealing, indifferent manner and her grandmother’s not-so-gentle admonishment have been on my mind.


All this week, I have received texts from my mother updating me about her friend’s heart transplant. My mother lives in South Africa. Her friend is in Atlanta. They are almost 10,000 miles away from each other, but the distance means nothing to my mom whose texts from Monday to Wednesday read as if she is sitting next to him in ICU, watching him recover:

The heart is on its way. He is prepped and ready and they’ll begin when the heart arrives. Keep praying.

Procedure just started now. They said 7 hours.

The new heart was in at 1.22am my time. [He] came out of OR and went into ICU.

He’s awake. Doing well. Miracle. I’m so relieved but it’s the waiting to see if heart is accepted.

He’s eating softs foods! Able to get up for a bit. Amazing. Love and hugs to you all.

And finally, this one just a few minutes ago, today, Friday:

just waiting for today’s news 🙂

It is no wonder that my mother, who has spent weeks recovering from painful back and heart surgeries herself over the years, is so worried about her friend undergoing this enormous procedure. If they were in the same country, I have no doubt that she would be at his bedside all day, watching, caring, helping in person.

What is amazing to me is that even with the tremendous distance between them, her care and concern is so deep and so present it is palpable even to me, removed by more degrees of distance and separation. I know, with each beat of his new heart her dear friend feels every wave of compassion across the vast Atlantic, from her kitchen in Pretoria to his hospital bed in Atlanta.


As I received these texts from my mom this week, I thought what a shining example of warmth and kindness she would be to that cold, sleek, fish-like Lady Mary with her ramrod straight back and newly-coiffed bob.

I know it’s a TV show, but her apathy and unkindness stem from reality. That she can’t even muster an “Oh shame” (the ultimate South African expression of sympathy and empathy) is abhorrent but not uncommon in a world where too many people feel alone, uncared for and forgotten.

Lady Violet uses her carefully chosen words to teach her granddaughter. And I learn from my own mother’s heartfelt words and her sincerest, deepest compassion.

I think the Dowager would agree with my mom: We are never too far away to care about each other.

This post is part of 1000Speak. Today, in honor of United Nations World Day of Social Justice (February 20), more than 1,000 bloggers all over the world are writing about compassion. 1000Speak started with an understanding that all creatures, at every stage of life, need the kindness and compassion of others. The movement has taken on its own life, and is spreading  a whole lot of love and connection. Join us – together we’re stronger!

Spread the love using the hashtag #1000Speak

Join the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion group on Facebook.


Who’s Your Favorite?


The road we’re driving on is twisty and quiet. It’s early Saturday morning and we pass a few energetic cyclists bravely making their way up. The still-winter but feels-like-summer sun glints off the faint dust on the windscreen, obscuring my vision every now and then. I pay close attention to the road and my distance from the cyclists, almost completely oblivious to the conversation behind me. When I realize Maroon 5 is playing on the radio, I quickly change it. He’s still cute, but Adam Levine’s whiny singing voice is not welcome at this tranquil hour. Or any hour.

“You’re the favorite,” I hear on the periphery of a sharp hairpin bend. I don’t know who says it. And I don’t know whom they’re saying it to. The details aren’t important to me. It’s an ongoing conversation in our house that I don’t engage in: who’s the favorite. My favorite, they mean. They share their thoughts on this delicate subject openly with each other, all with pretty accurate reasons why they must be right. According to them, my favorite is never the one leading the discussion.

The Urban Dictionary definition of favorite is “most wanted or desired.”

Yes. You’re right. You are my favorite. And, in order of oldest to youngest because that’s the order each of you claimed my whole heart four times over, here’s why:

Daniel, you are my favorite because you got my heart first. Because you are easy-going and independent and responsible. Because you love steak but hate chocolate, and ask every Friday night if the challah is homemade. Because you take school seriously, and have a dry, witty sense of humor, and you don’t mind when your little brother plays with your ears. Because your denim blue eyes are usually calm and steady, but this one time when Dad and I yelled at each other from opposite sides of a cold, hard London street they burned bright with tears and confusion. They looked straight into mine and your broken teenage voice poked holes of relief in my anger. “When you guys walk off in different directions, away from us, we don’t know who to follow.” You spoke for all four of you.

Zak, you’re my favorite. You are the most like me: passionate, sensitive, social and too-easily frustrated. You stomp your feet hard enough for both of us when we don’t get our own way. And you’re you: the heart of our family. One time, you tumbled into the car with difficult bits of the school day stuck to your backpack and your cheeks. With angry sadness swimming in your liquid brown eyes, the first question you asked was how my day was. You are compassion and honesty and fun and courage every time you butt-board down the street, do your Math with a pencil that is difficult to grasp, or use your parkour moves to navigate the wet grass wearing only socks.

Sage, you’re my favorite because I got to name you Sage, a name I have loved forever. And you are wise and fresh and calm and helpful, with your sage-colored eyes and glittering of freckles that twinkle when you laugh. You are my favorite because you love to read and write and make up stories, just like I do, and you also run wild with your brothers. One time, a girl you thought was your friend called you a “demon” and your green eyes deepened to gray as you tried to understand why. You’re my favorite because even though I don’t believe in Valentine’s Day, you do and you helped your little brother do this:


Jed, you were the last to hold my whole heart and you will always be my favorite because you will always be my baby. Even when you’re a dad! Because you are strong and fearless and love to hug me, and you drink tea every day. This one time, we went for a hike and you grabbed a stick and led the way. “For freedom,” you yelled as we all followed in a line behind you, your little body barely visible in its white T-shirt as you charged forward along the trail. You are my favorite because you spray deodorant all over your five-year-old self every morning, and then ask me to tie your shoes.

The drive is over and I pull into a spot. I kill the engine and half turn in my seat to look at them. Echoes of “favorite” bounce in the space between us, like a buoyant balloon expected to pop any second.

“You’re all my favorite,” I say. Jed smiles, happy to hear the answer.

“Sure Mom, you always say that,” says Zak.

“Yeah, Mom, that’s the right thing to say,” noticeable, good-natured sarcasm in Daniel’s voice.

I look at Sage. She nods solemnly.

Yep. I do always say that. It is the right thing to say. Because it’s true.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday Post, inspired by the prompt, “This one time…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee and co-hosted by Jennifer from Dancing in the Rain.

The Difference a Click Makes


This beautiful girl with the strawberry blonde hair, eyes that sparkle, and a smile that lights up the Internet is Bridget.

Recently, Bridget was diagnosed with PACS1. I bet you’ve never heard of it. It’s an extremely rare genetic mutation that has affected only 20 children in the entire world. PACS1.

I encountered Bridget in the extraordinary blogosphere where one click leads to another leads to another led to this mesmerizing photo. Bridget’s smile reached through the screen, over thousands of cyber miles, and made me smile too. Undiagnosed but Okay, read the banner across the top of the blog. That mesmerized me. Who, I wondered, is undiagnosed? This little girl? Her mom? Someone else? And why are they undiagnosed? Why are they okay?

Bridget’s mom, my friend Kerri, is a working wife and mom of two. She always knew that Bridget had an unknown syndrome and she writes about life in general, but specifically about raising a child with special needs.

According to Kerri, many physicians are unaware of the existence of PACS1. Bridget has had multiple genetic tests during her life, all of which rendered nothing conclusive. Undiagnosed.

Through a series of clicks, a reader of Kerri’s blog shared the name of a doctor, and thinking it a long shot but trusting her instincts and the voice of a virtual stranger, Kerri embarked on a journey. And discovered PACS1.

This doctor examined Bridget’s DNA strand by strand, and found the PACS1 gene mutation. The orphan disease registry revealed 19 other children with this syndrome. So rare. So difficult to find. Because so few people, parents, doctors know about it.

Now diagnosed and still okay, Bridget and Kerri are no longer stumbling about in the land of the unknown. And they want to bring awareness and attention to this rare syndrome, so that parents will not be satisfied with “I don’t know” and undiagnosed. Even if okay. So that doctors will know to look for it. So that complicated genetic testing will be available to all. So that insurance companies will approve expenses.

Families, friends, bloggers, readers all over the world are joining together today, February 7, to raise awareness for PACS1 so that more children like Bridget do not go undiagnosed

All you have to do (no donation required) is click here. Join us. Just click.

Continue the discovery

Learn more about PACS1

Read about Kerri and Bridget’s journey

Join 1,000 Voices for Compassion