Tag Archives: Kindness

The Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear

A woman I’ll call Ana was tried for the murder of her 18-month-old son in Sacramento, California. A teddy bear should have been the least of her concerns, but it was always somewhere in the back of her mind.

Ana was the breadwinner of her household. She supported her infant son, the boy’s twin sister, their older sibling, and her boyfriend who was the children’s father. Ana worked in a restaurant in San Francisco where the minimum wage was higher. Because she didn’t own a car, commuting from Sacramento to San Francisco would have entailed a costly, twice-daily, six-hour ordeal involving the Sacramento light rail, a commuter bus, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), and walking. Ana made the difficult decision to sleep on friends’ couches and commute home to Sacramento only when she had days off – two to three times per month.

The coroner determined that when he died, Ana’s infant son had pneumonia, sepsis, and broken ribs that had healed. The infant was also malnourished. Police investigated for almost one year before prosecutors charged Ana and her boyfriend with murder.

After Ana and her boyfriend were arrested, social workers from children’s protective services removed the two remaining children from the home. As often happened with abandoned units, Ana’s apartment became an easy target for break-ins.

At trial, the prosecutor argued that Ana and her boyfriend were negligent in failing to get their son medical care that would have prevented the malnutrition and infection that led to his death. Ana’s attorney presented evidence that Ana saw the baby for only a few days each month, pointing the finger of neglect toward Ana’s boyfriend as the primary caretaker.

There was also testimony from experts that Ana was a battered woman who was not psychologically capable of standing up to her boyfriend’s decisions regarding the care of their children. Like most battered women, Ana had unconsciously recreated her past; her boyfriend was not the first man to abuse her.

Ana and her boyfriend were ultimately acquitted of murder, but her boyfriend was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sent to prison. Ana was released from jail but would not be reunited with her two young children who were now living with a relative in another state.

Weeks later Ana was at a store and saw a man and a woman who were her neighbors at the apartment complex where she lived in Sacramento. She approached them and asked if they recognized her. Not only did they recognize her, they were excited to see her. “We have your bear!” they told her.

What this couple really had was the urn containing the ashes of Ana’s son. Knowing that the urn was inside the teddy bear, the couple had taken it from Ana’s abandoned apartment for safekeeping. These neighbors never visited Ana in jail and never took time off from work to attend her trial, but they managed to perform an important act of kindness that brought someone who had been through hell a needed dose of comfort and happiness.

Long after Ana’s pain, anguish, excitement, and joy have faded, she will need hope to rebuild her life. Whenever Ana looks at her teddy bear, she will think of her son. She will also be reminded that goodness and kindness endured as she went through hell. And she will remember to hope.

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2017.

 

 

 

Tortoises, Hares, and Empathy

Broken Ankle

Copyright Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.

My adult daughter recently broke her ankle in a bicycling accident. She got a stainless steel plate and five screws surgically implanted into her leg. Now in a cast, she can’t walk or bear weight on her ankle for six weeks. Her orthopedist told her that even with physical therapy it will take about a year for her ankle to get back to normal.

Good friends rallied and got my daughter through her initial injury and surgery, and now I’m spending a few weeks with her to help her settle into her new reality. Before I leave, I hope we can figure out how she’ll get around her house and get back and forth to work by herself.

I have a theory that people are either tortoises or hares. I am a tortoise: slow and steady; evaluating a situation and creating an attack plan before I engage; methodical; analytical. My daughter is a hare: quick off the block; preferring to jump into a project and make adjustments as she goes; unconcerned with sizing up events as they unfold.

My daughter the hare misses being quick. Everything she does now takes so much longer than it used to.

My daughter the hare misses being fiercely independent. She now weighs the option of asking for help to get something done faster, or doing it by herself and taking twice as long to get it done.

Whether she’s on her crutches, on her scooter, or in a wheelchair cart at a store, my daughter the hare now moves slowly. I walk beside her or follow closely behind her and observe people’s reactions. Most people dart around her. Some people politely make room for her to pass. Some people make her wait while they finish whatever they’re doing before they let her go by.

My daughter the hare now gets tired because simple tasks are no longer effortless: getting in and out of the car; getting in and out of her house, office buildings, and stores; getting in and out of the shower; dressing herself.

My daughter the hare misses being outdoors, walking her dog, meeting friends for drinks, cooking, doing household chores, and all the other things she used to do quickly and easily.

Before her bicycling accident two weeks ago, my daughter the hare was running, hiking, and taking yoga classes several times a week in addition to working full-time and keeping a busy social schedule. My daughter the hare misses exercising her body.

I won’t sugarcoat my daughter’s situation. It sucks. It’s painful to watch her struggle through simple things like bathing and navigating the stairs in her home on crutches. It makes me ashamed to see people look inconvenienced by my daughter’s slowness because I’m sure I’ve had that look on my face when I’ve encountered a slow moving wheelchair as I’m rushing. It makes me want to cry to see the beginnings of depression lurking around my happy and energetic little hare. I can feel her frustration and her growing sense of isolation.

With every setback and bit of suffering that comes into our lives, we have the opportunity to grow. Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is something we can develop with each experience. As difficult as it is for my daughter, young, healthy, and fit, to adjust to living with her broken ankle, my heart aches for anyone with mobility issues who is older or in poor health. My daughter’s ankle will heal. Not everyone with mobility issues has the hope of walking unassisted again.

So the next time you see someone moving in the slow lane of life, please practice your empathetic skills. Be thankful for your ability to get around quickly and painlessly. Think about how long it took and how hard it was for that person slowing you down to get where you are now. Think about how lonely and isolating it feels for them to see people moving in the fast lane of the world as they get left behind.

This tortoise mom will notice, and she’ll be grateful. Someone else might be smiling at you as well. If God has to be either a tortoise or a hare, I’d put Him in the tortoise column. God is forever. He’s in no hurry. Which lane do you think He’s moving in?

 

©Living off Island, Writing Wahine, 2016.