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!
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