An Aisle Full of Compassion

Paper plates. Wrapping paper. Plastic forks. Tissue paper.

A mama’s to-do list seems endless at times, and my most recent assignment to the nearest Dollar Tree was no different. Except for the fact that I was running this errand solo and was in “mom mission” mode, known as the time I can accomplish 37 incomplete tasks because I don’t have a village to buckle and unbuckle from the car. And on a mission I was.

Personalized stationery in hand, items color-coded by category (because it looks pretty—that’s why), and game face ready for the distractions—the “do I need [insert not-needed item here]?” and perhaps a run-in with a fellow Steelers fan (Sunday = jersey day), or just another mama out with a goal of checking off boxes from her lovely notepad—I set off with purpose. My hands were full of items I needed for a few upcoming events, and with a spring in my step and the knowledge that my Dollar Tree run would take me exactly eight minutes, I was headed to the nearest checkout counter when I stopped in my tracks. There she stood, among the picture frames and vases, proudly wearing her Baltimore Ravens jersey in all its purple glory.

For this Pittsburgh Steelers fan, meeting a Ravens fan out of the Maryland/Pennsylvania areas can be tricky waters to navigate. In case you are wondering, my thoughts were this:

Do I say “hi”? We are both from faraway lands, but I mean, it’s still the Ravens…

Do I smile and hope that she doesn’t think I am gloating because we beat them a few weeks ago and currently hold the top spot in our division?

Do I pass out my tutoring business card that states where my degrees are from? Surely she knows how to pronounce D-U-Q-U-E-S-N-E and understands how serious Penn Staters are about their creamery…

It’s as if she were reading my mind, because no sooner had those last thoughts entered it, she was smiling and asking what time my beloved team played that day. We exchanged pleasantries about the weather, upcoming holiday festivities, and what it would take for a team to actually beat the New England Patriots. But somewhere in that light conversation, I got a gut feeling that there was more. More to her story and our meeting. More than touchdown talks and goals of adding another Super Bowl ring to our hometown bragging rights. It was as if flood gates opened when she touched my arm and expressed certain emotions that will tug on the heartstrings of any mother:

“I moved here for my son and I’m sad.

I miss home.

I never thought I could be this lonely.

I don’t have anyone here.

My village is a thousand miles away.

My son is in his twenties, yet I worry for him every day.

I want to go home.”

After 20 or so minutes of listening to her raw and honest accounts of what brought her to San Antonio, why her heart is pulling her back to Maryland, and how a mother’s work is really never finished, I stood there with tears in my eyes. There before me was a fellow mother, 20 years my senior, expressing her hurt, love, fear, and worries to a stranger. On a different occasion, I would have proudly put on my San Antonio resident hat and most likely overwhelmed her with a wealth of knowledge, current happenings, and traditions that make ours a desirable and vibrant city in which to reside. I would have mapped out sights and attractions from a local transplant’s vault of ideas, all the while encouraging her to give the Fiesta activities “one more try,” because we all know it takes a while to really understand what Fiesta is all about.

But today was different. She was different. With each passing day, I learn that this beautiful journey of motherhood is rooted in love, understanding, patience, and empathy, not only with our children and families, but with fellow mamas. I wish I had one answer to ease her homesick heart, an answer to cure all her ache and pain, one that would remove the “grown child” worries from her plate. She and I both knew that this wasn’t a “one solution fixes all,” and that was OK. Because for that one Sunday, in the aisle of a Dollar Tree, a Ravens and a Steelers fan embraced, letting tears fall on the colors of the jerseys that blended and bonded together in a hug that only mothers could understand.

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