Several weeks ago, Jane flooded the laundry room while doing a load of laundry. How did she manage that, you ask? Well, a few months before that, we discovered problems with our septic tanks.
Just as my husband left on a trip this past Spring, it rained, the tanks filled, and we lost all ability to use the facilities, shower, or wash clothes (the washing machine inexplicably drains to a tank). I very competently (if I do say so myself) dealt with the crisis, but we were not left fully operational.
Most noticeably, our washing machine would not reliably drain without backing up. So… well… we started snaking the drain for the washing machine out the window and attaching the end to a garden hose to drain.
This was not to be a long term solution. But we were busy and it became normal.
Only Jane failed to put the hose out one day.
Her daddy came around the corner of the house to see water pouring out the seams of the window. He got pretty upset at her. We both thought it was a strongly incompetent act on her part. How could she forget? I thought for sure that after that, none of us would ever forget the hose again.
And then… I asked my husband to wash a load of laundry while I was at work last week. He did. And walked up to the front door later to see water pouring out from under it. This time, the water ran the full length of the laundry room, into our entry way, and out the door.
I thought about this for a little while and it reminded me (on a much different scale, of course) of a time period over a decade ago when there appeared to be a rash of parents leaving their infants in the car when they went into work and the babies died.
People I talked to were all horrified at the incompetence of those parents. “How could anyone possibly forget they had their child with them?!”
How, indeed. I knew the answer. They were distracted. They were probably out of their routine. The baby was asleep. I once drove to work with infant Jane in the car because the route to the babysitter’s house was the same as my route to work and my husband usually took her. I headed down the familiar road and went on autopilot. I remembered her as I parked my car, but a few more thoughts about work, and I might not have.
Empathy. Being able to see yourself in another person’s shoes. To recognize yourself in another person’s humanity rather than seeing them as an incomprehensible, inhuman anomaly. I suppose sometimes it can’t be done… but I suspect it can be done much more than we realize.
Jane exercised some questionable judgment at summer camp this year. Some of her friends misinterpreted it and one of them is still mad at her. He’s not completely without merit but he is certainly showing a lack of empathy. While watching the slide show, I saw pictures of each child holding the bowl they had decorated for a mission project. Kids from the previous week had constructed the bowls. Jane’s had a defect so she wrote “Imperfect Human” on it. A reference to the bowl. And its maker. And herself. And the boy mad at her. And her dad. And you. And me.
All of us are imperfect. Sometimes that has little consequences… like flooding the laundry room. Sometimes big… like losing your child. We can’t simply say we would never do it just because we never have. Or because we don’t want to admit that we could.
Editor’s note: Jane read this and told me that her bowl actually had a dot between “Imperfect” and “Human,” meaning she considered the words to be synonyms. I don’t think that alters the meaning or significance of anything I wrote here but it is, in my opinion, an even deeper observation on her part.