If I were to speak my previous entries in a spiritual direction session, I, as spiritual director, might ask a question often used: “What does it look like?” That is, when I say love, what do I mean? How is that expressed? Here is a story of what I mean, because I am not merely talking of eros love. No, I love with compassion, too. Though I have stories from my work with the homeless of deep love being manifest in and through them, I have a story when compassion was shown to me.
It was July of 1985. My family was present at a church retreat at Ocean Shores, WA. I was 5 years old, but I have vague memories of campfires at the beach, and even falling out of the bunk bed one night. The return home, however, has been forever and vividly burned into my memory.
Our car took the lead in a caravan of carpools. My dad was at the wheel with my mom as passenger; my sister and I sat in the back, largely ignoring each other, lest one of us dared to cross the middle boundary that lay between.
We only had a few split seconds before the car hit us, barely enough time for the brain to register that a car was heading straight in our direction. My dad hit the brakes, but we were on a bridge and it was too late. I remember looking up and seeing the swerving car; I didn’t even have time to be afraid.
There was so much love that day, in the presence of our church family, and those who stopped to help. The driver of the other car had fallen asleep, and hit us head-on. The impact of the accident knocked me out. I remember being carried out of the car by the vicar’s wife. Barely conscious, I remember seeing the remains of our crumpled car, though I blacked out and regained consciousness again in the ambulance. I have no memory of pain until I entered the emergency room. There, while the doctors were working to save me, my body went into trauma. The seat belt that saved my life also caused internal bleeding. I remember convulsing and throwing up blood; my body felt as if thousands of needles were sticking into me all at once.
Meanwhile, my mom and sister were going through their own trauma—my dad was the only one not seriously injured. And that God for that, as his attentiveness was much needed.
I spent a week in the hospital. My mom was severely injured. The dashboard had crushed her right leg. So at five years old, I spent those nights in the hospital without my mom to comfort and hold me.
One of those days in the hospital I received a visit from an elderly gentleman. He stopped to see me and talk with me, although I barely remember his face or what he said. But I will never forget his presence. He brought to me, as he did with other children in the hospital, stuffed animals hand-made by his wife.
Three years ago I was a hospital chaplain for 10 weeks…there I was able to love others as this man had loved me. My calling may not be to hospital chaplain, but the love I speak of fills my heart so much that I have no choice but to give this love. This is what I mean when I say I may not be meant for an eros love relationship (see C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves). I am searching for love, yes, but even more I must search for ways that my love may be shown and how to let love be shown to me.
The knitted goose this man gave to me has been one of my symbols of love, compassion, and grace. And, as a clever 5-year-old, I named this creature, “Goosey”. My Goosey stayed by my side throughout my childhood, and on my most recent trip home, I brought him back to Seattle. Goosey has fared well over the years, only once needing to be mended. That goose is strong, independent, and well-worn—just like me.
I love this goose, and the goose was made with love. I love that man, who surely has passed away by now. And I know that he loved me.