“I can’t believe how stupid she is being! She is not a mom. When is she going to wake up and see what she is doing? Holy cow, what an idiot.”
I listened to my youngest daughter, Mariah, rant for about a half-hour. I never said a word; I just let her speak. Once she was done I looked at her and said,
“Sometimes we repeat the past without really knowing what we are doing. In our thinking it is the norm. It is everyone else who is dysfunctional. I do not agree with her decisions, but then that was the way she was raised. Her parents did the best they could, flaws and all.”
Mariah just looked at me and shook her head no. She could not wrap her mind around the destruction, and level of selfishness this mom was inflicting upon her 4 children and now her granddaughter.
She looked at me and simply stated,
“Then maybe it is time for her to grow up! For pete sakes, she is 38 years old not 16. She is behaving like a teenage girl.”
The ranting went on for another several minutes. Nothing was resolved, but what could be resolved? This was not our family, or our situation. Frustrating to watch, but ultimately not our problem.
Once Mariah left the room I began to think about all the times I had acted like a selfish parent. All those times I was unable to look past the moment and see the long-term effects, and instead of feeling anger towards this mom I felt compassion. Not only did I feel compassion I felt her pain. I felt the pain she was going to be experiencing in a very short time, that pain of regret.
I tried to convey my thoughts to Mariah, but she really could not understand. After all I am 32 years her senior. I have been where she is at, but she has not been where I am. I have something she does not have. I have time, experience and perspective on my side.
Once Mariah left for work I began to think about our conversation. I thought about what had been said, and remembered a time in my life where my consequences came crashing down around my feet. I thought about those who were harsh and judgmental, and those who extended mercy and compassion towards me. I thought about whom I learned the most from, and whom I tried to avoid. I thought about which person I wanted to be, and decided that this mom needed a person to show her compassion.
I sat there in the emergency room waiting for the doctor to come in. sweat began to roll off my forehead. My heart was pounding so loud I could hear, and feel it in my ears. What “ifs” and what could “be’s” came flooding in like a tidal wave. The only good thing I could think of, was that my fear, the terror I was feeling, was taking my mind off the pain in my finger.
On May 6th, 2010 I made a series of bad decisions during the day, which sent me to the local emergency room that afternoon. I chose to drink and then chose to try to kill an animal that had been harassing my cats.
We live in the country on 7.33 acres. I had tried everything I knew to do to chase the animal away, so when all else failed the gun seemed like the best, last resort. Unfortunately it was not.
As I was firing the 25, semi-automatic pistol, it jammed. While I tried to clear the jammed shell, (by the way, the gun was shorter than my fingers, and I did not make sure my fingers were out-of-the-way due to my judgment being impaired) the gun discharged. The bullet tore through my middle finger on my left hand. Thankfully I had the gun pointing down and away from my body!
I had been shot. That much I knew.
I immediately moved into the house and put the gun on the kitchen counter. I grabbed a rag and applied pressure to my finger. I called my neighbor and asked her to drive me to the hospital.
As I was standing in the kitchen I saw something out of the corner of my right eye. I looked over and saw it. There was a trail of blood from the front door to the kitchen counter. Before my neighbor arrived I grabbed another rag and some cleaner, and cleaned up the blood trail. I did not want the blood to set into the carpet in the entryway. Also, I knew my daughter would be coming in later and she did not need to come home to that! I had not talked with her, so she had no idea what had happened.
I stood on the front porch, applying pressure to my finger and waited for my ride. Once my neighbor arrived we both got into my truck and she drove me to the local ER.
As she was driving I finally had enough courage to remove the rag from my finger and held up my hand for her to survey the damage. I told her that I had not looked at the wound and asked her if she thought duck tape and gauze could be used to bandage the injury, or if she thought I would need stitches.
She looked at my finger, gasped for air and then said,
“Oh God, no. Gauze and duck tape will not work this time. You definitely will need stitches. Actually, you will need more than stitches. Please put the rag back on your hand!”
At that point, I knew this situation was worse than I thought. I began to hyperventilate. She had to remind me to slow my breathing down. She kept reassuring me that everything would be okay. I rambled all the way to town. It was my way of trying to defuse the fear and embarrassment I was feeling.
Once I was in an exam room I finally looked at my finger. Part of it was gone. I would need to see a specialist because a skin graft would be needed to rebuild and repair the damage.
Two of the local sheriff officers arrived at the hospital and interviewed my neighbor, and me. They also came to my home and re-created the “incident.” I had to be brutally honest about what had happened, how much I had to drink, and if I had a “drinking” problem. I felt so foolish.
Since the gun was semi-automatic and ready to fire again, one of the officers removed the clip and the jammed shell casing. At that point, I put the gun in my lock box and called its owner to come and remove it from my property.
It is amazing how, through a situation like this, a lifetime of memories can return within such a short period of time. It was similar to watching several movies or snapshots in highlight format. As the memories came flooding I saw the good, the bad, the ugly, the unbearable, and the times of indescribable joy.
I spoke with Old Man about all the things I was feeling and experiencing. Not once did he make fun, or downplay my pain. He just listened. He encouraged me to learn all I could learn from the gunshot incident, and he told me not to beat myself up for years to come. All I know is that because of his ability to listen, and his encouragement, I was able to retain my dignity, and learn what I needed to learn.
This morning as I was trying to type this story up, my middle finger on my left hand was hurting. Half of my finger is numb, due to severing the nerve, and the other half of my finger hurts most of the time. Especially when there is a significant weather change, like there is today.
The finger though is a reminder to me that it is easy to judge. It is easy to criticize. It is easy to see the faults in those around us. Yet, the true test of a person’s humanity is not found in the way they respond to those around them when life is going well, but rather, the way they respond to them when life comes crashing down around their feet.
I hope in time I am able to speak with this mom. It may not happen, but if the day does come I want to extend compassion to her. I want to be to her what Old Man was to me, honest but caring.
Compassion trumps judgement. Compassion encourages dialogue, and compassion leaves a person feeling loved not isolated and condemned.
In a way I am thankful for my finger, pain and all. For me it is a physical reminder of what was and who I need to be.
And for those who are wondering, I never fired another gun again after that day. Some wounds are a little harder to heal.