I figured I’d been pretty brave to up stakes and move halfway around the world with my husband and our two-week-old baby, far from everybody I’d ever known and loved. And I had; I’ll cheerfully admit that. It was really hard, and it required a lot of fortitude to fight through the loneliness and exhaustion and culture shock, and the dreadful, dreadful homesickness. To learn about being a mom with nobody to help me. I couldn’t even phone my own mom very often, because 20 years ago international phone calls cost about 15 times more than they do now, and money was very, very tight.
In due course I went back to work (my daughter, then a year-and-a-half-old, was less than impressed). One of my co-workers had a little girl at the same daycare. In unnerving contrast to my alert and healthy daughter, hers was profoundly physically and mentally handicapped. She was a little knotted rag of a thing in a massive padded wheelchair that dwarfed her. As far as I could tell, she could not interact with her surroundings. Even eye contact seemed to be impossible for the amount of muscle control she had. Her mother loved her desperately and cared for her with adamantine devotion.
One day this co-worker asked me about my coming to Australia. I related the details: tiny baby, frantic packing, endless plane trip, parental cluelessness with no resources. I didn’t say much about how miserable I felt most of the time; that would have been appallingly self-centered, I thought (and think). But she was curious about what it had been like, so I told her.
And then this woman, whose child faced the possibility of catastrophic bodily failure and death every day, who required ceaseless care in absolutely every aspect of life, who would never be able to say “I love you” – this woman said to me, with admiration in her voice, “I don’t know how you did it.”
I lost touch with my co-worker over the years. I don’t know what became of her little girl. But that moment of compassion from her – who spent every drop of compassion she had on her daughter, but somehow still found more for me – stretched my own heart several sizes larger. She’s one of my heroes: able, even under staggeringly heavy burdens of heartache, love, and grief – not even to mention the demands on her time, energy, and finances that her child’s challenges mandated – still to open herself to know and understand others’ distress and offer them encouragement and affirmation. I think of her whenever someone asks for just one more bit of understanding from me than I reckon at the time I can spare. She redefined “all I can do”.
In billions of ways every day all over the planet, billions of women are changing the limits: for themselves, for the people around them. They’re doing as much as humanly possible, and then doing more. They’re raising a scornful eyebrow and snorting derisively when people tell them, “Well, that’s enough now, isn’t it?” They’re looking up after a hard day’s work and realizing they’re the only ones left in the office or in the field. They’re surprising even themselves with the miracles they find they have wrought.
I give thanks to and for all the women who have taught me that “all I can do” is a meaningless limit. I thank them for their compassion, courage, charity, imagination, and energy. I hope that I, too, can look at “all I can do” as nothing more than the sign on the doorway into a place of boundless power and compassion.
American-born writer Laura E. Goodin has been writing professionally for over 30 years. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications, including Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Adbusters, Wet Ink, The Lifted Brow, and Daily Science Fiction, among others, and in several anthologies. (Her story “Jimmy’s Boys” will be appearing in the forthcoming Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild anthology The Never Never Land.) Her plays and libretti have been performed on three continents, and her poetry has been performed internationally, both as spoken word and as texts for new musical compositions. She attended the 2007 Clarion South workshop, and has just completed a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Western Australia. Her web site is http://www.lauraegoodin.com/thework.html.