When I was around seven years old, my sister and I would go over to a friend's house almost every afternoon during the summer and pretend-play for hours. It is something I really enjoyed doing.
Mary's house was just a few houses away from mine but I would ask my mother to take me there because I was too afraid to go by myself. Why was I afraid? Because right next door Mary's place, in a very old house lived a mysterious old lady with her adult daughter. I wasn't afraid of the old lady, she seemed nice but I was afraid of her daughter who apparently couldn't speak despite being around forty something years old.
I remember running quickly when I had to pass by their house because I did not want to stop because I thought the woman would 'take me and eat me or hurt me". I would see her spinning like a top by their front yard, screaming, or standing there like a statue, just staring at me. Just seeing her, thinking about her would literally petrify me. A few times, I even saw her half-naked and her mother would come patiently to fix her clothes, caress her head and go back inside.
One day, I went by myself to Mary's house to play, we went to her back yard. It was a very hot day and we starting playing with water. All of the sudden, Mary said "Hey, I have an idea! Why we don't take a bucket full of water and we throw it to the crazy old woman next door? It will be fun!" and laughed hysterically. I knew it was wrong, I knew that no matter how afraid I was of this lady, throwing a bucket full of water to a lady who did nothing to me was something my parents wouldn't be proud of, I wasn't raised like that. I stood there in complete silence hoping Mary would change her mind. "So? Are you in or not?".
I couldn't answer, I just stood there as I watched Mary fill that bucket to the rim while laughing. I did not stop her, I did not tell her what she was about to do was wrong and hurtful and in my mind, because I was not going to directly participate in the act, I was somehow not responsible for what was about to happen.
She took the ladder, placed in the right position and threw the water at the lady with the lonely eyes. Mary started laughing non-stop and I heard what sounded like a howl followed by someone crying. I quickly run up the ladder to see what was happening and the lady was standing there completely soaking wet and looking at me with the saddest eyes I have ever seen. For the first time, I was no longer afraid of her but my heart sank, I started feeling physically sick and a deep feeling of remorse covered my entire mind, heart and soul. I was pale as a paper.
Five minutes passed and I heard the door. And there she was, the lady with the lonely eyes and her mother who also got wet in the process. I put my head down in shame as Mary's mother talked. I was expecting the old lady to be angry, I expected her to shout and tell us how ashamed we should feel about ourselves for doing that. But she didn't. She looked at us and my eyes couldn't meet hers. I was too ashamed of myself to say anything at all.
She looked at me, raised my chin and whispered to me: "Please, don't do that again. My daughter is an older lady but she has problems and it's hard, I know you are too young to understand her but please, don't do that again". I gulped and started crying quietly. I started crying because of the love this woman showed to me, for her understanding and compassion and the love she had for her daughter. I cried because I was too ashamed of myself because even though I was young, I knew better.
This experience marked my life so much that I never again I allowed anyone to manipulate me in doing something I am not comfortable doing. It taught me to speak up when I disagree with something and not to be afraid of being unpopular when others are doing something wrong that is hurting others.
Also, it changed the way I saw people who are deemed "different" by society's standards and helped me create wonderful and meaningful friendships with people with special needs. I needed them as much as they needed me.
Many years have passed since I saw this old sweet lady and her daughter with the lonely eyes, they moved out from my neighborhood and I never heard about them again but the impact they had in my life was priceless and I"ll be forever thankful for allowing me as a seven year old, understand the meaning of compassion and standing for what is right.