Saturday, September 6, 2014

Teresa's Tale

Many moons ago a dignified middle-aged, middle-class woman from Mexico fled her abusive husband, who had pistol whipped her beautiful face until she went nearly deaf.

She sought refuge with relatives in Los Angeles. As the hardworking mother of nine grown children, she had no use for lying around someone's house in the bowels of a foreign land. She could cook, sew elegant clothes and had a heart that contained enough love for the entire world's population of children.

She came into our lives just as my 18 month old daughter needed someone to distract her for the mornings so that her artist mother could scratch the itch of the painting muse. And it worked so beautifully that I almost lost my daughter's primary allegiance to the supremely benevolent Teresa.

After about a year into this expanded family, Teresa mumbled that she had a cold but that it was nothing. She continued to care for Lara with her usual enthusiasm so I took little notice. Then one day, her son showed up at the door and took her away for what I thought was the usual Sunday outing. He called later that night to say that she had double pneumonia, was in an oxygen tent, and inferred that some monstrous Gringo employer had almost worked his mother to death. The long suffering abused wife had apparently learned to hide her pain quite efficiently.

Teresa returned two weeks later, pale but better. Her birthday was in a few days. She had made friends with other caregivers in the local park and they were known to me. So I decided to throw Teresa a birthday lunch with her neighborhood friends.

These ladies, who mostly knew endless hard work caring for other people's houses and children, were seated at my large dining room table while I served them the meal I had made. A pathetic attempt at Mexican cuisine but a gesture nonetheless. They looked a little stunned at first but then relaxed into friendly chatter in their native tongue.

Fast forward  a month. Teresa, now well and back to her usual self, told me thus: "I was going to quit and go back home but after you gave me that birthday lunch I decided to stay."

My gesture had nothing to do with bribery, nothing to do with false compassion. It was simply a mea culpa for not penetrating the defenses Teresa had put up to see her underlying needs. A gesture of the birthday lunch was simply an apology and a sign that in fact I did know she was a human being with the same needs for love and kindness as anyone else in the white upper-middle class neighborhood in which I lived.

That bumpersticker "pratice random kindness" has some infinite wisdom in it. One never knows when the good karma will boomerang back to you in spades.


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