Compassion With A Big "C"
The Gift of Tears
“Don’t cry over spilt milk!”
How many times did we hear that growing up?
I say, “ Why not cry over spilt milk?”
Heaven knows it's hell to clean up, unless you have a dog that can lap it up, and even then, the floor remains sticky.
I was reminded of this age old proverb while embarking on my daily stroll. I walk in a little section of my town called the Tower District. The streets are lined with mom and pop restaurants, coffee shops and a tea house, a smoking lounge, rowdy bars, tattoo parlors and numerous vintage clothing stores. The combination of sleeping in and a spring-like winter Sunday morning allowed me to people watch today, a contrast to the empty streets I usually encounter on my early morning walks.
The outdoor patio of Irene’s was filled with the brunch bunch. Laughter and the aroma of pancakes and sausage accompanied me on my 2-mile jaunt. I like this route so well that I walk it twice. It was on my final lap that I encountered a young mother and her son. Turning the corner of Wishon and Olive Avenues, home to the historical Tower Theater, is my usual signal to pick up my pace. Instead, I stopped dead in my tracks! My eyes met a large puddle of orange juice streaming towards my blue and gray tennis shoes. I quickly moved to the right and continued my walk. The mom, who was still a few feet in front of me, bent down to pick up a now empty paper cup and lid. The blonde haired boy stared wide-eyed at his lost breakfast beverage. Tall and slender, the little boy mimicked his mother's build as well as her delicate features. He was all of six years old.
“It’s okay, not a problem," his mother kept repeating in a cheerful voice.
The sad faced boy began to cry.
“We have more orange juice at home," the mom responded.
With that, the boy began to grieve for his spilled orange juice. His “straight and tall” posture gave way to near collapse. Moaning and groaning noises escaped from his mouth.
“Ooooooh, oooooooh,” the little guy cried as he followed his mom, his gait now plagued with spastic leg and arm disease.
In a very stern voice his once reassuring mother commanded, “Don’t cry over this.”
And then I passed them. I wanted to stop. I wanted to kneel down and look the little boy in the eye.
I wanted to say, “Oh gosh, that is so disappointing when that happens.”
I wanted to tell him a spilt milk story about me when I was a little kid, but I couldn’t think fast enough! I could still hear him crying; I really wanted to make it all better. No, I did not want to run back to Irene's and grab him an orange juice to go; I wanted to acknowledge that he lost his precious treasure between the cracks of the sidewalk! I wanted to yell out, "I get it, damn it! I'm upset too!"
He had probably gone out to breakfast with his mom and was so excited to get his very own orange juice. His eyes were probably bigger than his stomach and he had probably begged his mom to order a large. He probably wasn’t able to finish it, and probably asked if he could take it home. His mom probably thought she really didn’t want to take the orange juice home, but said okay anyway. Once the orange juice spilled she probably thought, See,we shouldn’t have taken it to go, and I shouldn’t have wasted my money on a large. When her 6 year old began to cry she probably thought, This is the last time I am getting him orange juice at a restaurant, and if he is going to act like this I’m not taking him out to breakfast again for a very long time.
Sound familiar? Why is it that we just aren’t comfortable with people grieving, whether it’s over the death of a loved one, spilt milk or orange juice? Now for some reason when Flipper dies, (the pet guppy) we get it! We shed a few tears ourselves AND deliver a eulogy over the toilet!
Crying over spilt milk is practice for crying over other losses in our lives. Watching our children cry over split milk is practice too, for us being okay while watching our children grieve. When we say, “Don’t cry over spilt milk” we set a precedence for NO TEARS, which leads to NO GRIEVING! This kind of thinking leads to people who don’t know how to show compassion, who don’t know how to just be while others grieve their losses, and leads to people who don’t have permission to grieve their own losses. Our society is filled with people who are sick, physically and emotionally, from stuffing their feelings of sadness, disappointment, and grief.
There is always something behind our tears, something more than meets the eye. My guess for the little crying boy I met on my Sunday outing is this: tears for a wonderful breakfast ruined by the loss of his orange juice, the lingering reminder of a special time with his mom. He just wasn’t ready for the time to be over, and the spilled juice ended his morning adventure abruptly. He had wanted to savor the memories and reminisce later that day as he drank the last of his large O.J.
Allowing our kids to grieve, even over orange juice, allows us to give the compassion to our children that they naturally expect from us, their parents whom they love so much. It is a shock to our child's system, combined with a sudden lack of feeling safe, when we insist: “Stop now! Don’t cry, it's no big deal!” Allowing our kids to grieve also becomes an opportunity to teach our children to be compassionate with others.
When our feelings are validated with love and compassion it allows us to bring the spilled orange juice into perspective, and to eventually skip home and realize our memories of a wonderful morning with mom are in our hearts and not in the orange juice.
Sometimes what takes the smallest amount of effort just doesn’t happen. Why is that? Because our children’s tears trigger a very sad place inside of us. I suggest that the next time you and I encounter what appears to be just spilt milk, that we look beyond the white mess on the floor and the sticky residue. Let's have gratitude for the opportunity to BE COMPASSION in our world for the sake of our children, ourselves and others.