There is a chapter in the book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in which Francie and Neeley get vaccinated in order to attend school. In the hours beforehand, Neeley gets nervous, so Francie consoles him with making mud pies. Of course, they get incredibly dirty. At the appointed time, a neighbor leans out the window to remind them of their appointment, and, without washing, Francie and Neeley go to the clinic.
At the clinic, the doctor sighs and complains to the nurse of their dirtiness, assuming it is a byproduct of poverty and ignorance. He is a Harvard man with a socially prominent fiance who thinks of his service at the clinic as time in Purgatory. The nurse is from Francie's neighborhood and has worked hard to leave it behind.
Little Francie, stunned by the doctor's cruel complaint, expects the nurse to say something loving and kind, like:
"Maybe this little girl's mother works and didn't have time to wash her good this morning."
"You know how it is, Doctor. Children will play in dirt."
But the nurse fails. She says, "I know. Isn't it terrible? I sympathize with you, Doctor. There is no excuse for these people living in filth."
Betty Smith writes:
A person who pulls himself up from a low environment via the bootstrap route has two choices. Having risen above his environment, he can forget it; or, he can rise above it and never forget it and keep compassion and understanding in his heart for those he has left behind him in the cruel up climb.I've been thinking about this in relation to sin and being a sinner. The analogy is not perfect, but sometimes I think we are so scared we might revert back to old ways, or be identified with sinful practices, that, like the nurse, we fail to have compassion for others. And by we I mean me.