The moment I become dispassionate, not just for others in pain, but also for their day to day difficulties and unspoken desires, I will hate myself. I have no doubt that this would be my reaction. When I see this happen in the world, I'm shattered, incredulous, and even angry. What do any of us have that makes us better than our neighbor? For we are all neighbors, whether we live on the same street, across the ocean, or across the border from each other.
[ I will try to avoid politics in my writing, but let me just say: all I understand is freedom. All I think is equality. We all breathe the oxygen in the air, we all walk the same streets. Okay? Simple as that. End rant. ]
To Share the Feelings of Another
In my twenties, the constant tales of suffering and senseless destruction used to cause me to despair. Growing up in relative oblivion—as a girl who devoured novels, barely coming up for air in between—did not prepare me to face the evil in the world. Later, as an adult with less time for reading due to "adulting", I couldn't ignore or hide from it. Social media had changed things; prior to its boom, you could avoid buying the newspaper or turn off the TV if you didn't want to hear the news. I would cry in the car while driving to work at the thought of children being abused and no one realizing it until it was too late. How is this possible? I would sob, imagining the scenes of mass shootings that snuffed the life out of bright-eyed, beautiful people. What? What kind of person can look at another in the eye or watch them run and purposefully pull the trigger?
This began to build up to the point where I couldn't sleep from worrying for my two beautiful boys. What would their lives be like if things were only getting worse? I still do this. Because, unfortunately, terrible things such as war, famine, and genocide keep happening. Thankfully, I finally found an outlet that allows me to work through my horror and confusion. For me, writing is the key to dealing with the aching, unrelenting burden I carry.
What if each one of us were an island unto ourselves—an independent creature subject to all of the ills and malice that exist for us as humans—and no one cared? Can you imagine going through life without the arm of a friend or loved one to bear you up when the going gets tough? If we focused solely on our own problems, we'd hate ourselves quickly. And our neighbor would hate us for sticking to our side of the fence as he's drowning across the way.
No, it could never be. Our natural human response when facing adversity is one of empathy. Without it, we are like fortresses, stone-cold and helpful only to those within its walls.
All right, I've left you with the thought of what it might be like to NOT have empathy, so now I'll change perspective. Let's talk deep heart stuff for a moment.
Sometimes it's not easy being empathetic; it can be painful and it can be exhausting. After all, if you're sharing the emotions of someone going through profound difficulty or immense joy, your heart will be burdened for them, whether from the weight of their sorrow or from sharing in their gratitude.
I'll admit that hearing the heartbreaking stories in the news can sometimes shake me for days. My initial reaction is to wring my hands and cry out, why? Then I sit and try to release the intensity of the emotion through a poem or an essay. Other times, I exit reality and enter the fictional worlds in my stories. It keeps me sane which is kind of necessary as I've been told that functioning is important as a wife, mother, friend, etc. Kind of a strange notion.
On the flip side, there have been many special times when I was unable to speak for the thankfulness that burst from my heart. My siblings have been in car-accidents and survived. My friends have become parents after experiencing loss and other difficulties. My husband found a job after a year of searching for one in the States (I'll go into that story later on in my Italy blog). Stories from across the globe of humanitarian efforts and survival against the odds affect me in life-changing ways.
Of course, when people have joyous news, empathy can be rewarding if you possess it without jealousy or callousness. Haven't you found that the connections you make with people last longer when there is a mutual empathy between you? Even if you don't relate to every lifestyle, the people you come across or hear about are just like you. Living, breathing (I hope, for your sake) human beings with needs, hopes, highs, lows, blessings, and trials, just as you have. It doesn't take much to dig deep within yourself. To take their hand and offer your smile, even if from a distance.
Let your interactions mean something. Let your loved ones wet your shirt with their tears, sear your soul with their pain, or pull you into a happy dance. Living a full life means sharing experiences and feelings with others. We are all in this together.
My perspective on our short, earthly life has shifted since I was in my twenties. My new mantra has become: If there is darkness around you, light it up with a smile. I know I've said this before, but I truly hope that my words will be ones of hope and inspiration for people to share in from far and wide. So remember, if you open your eyes to neighbors, to strangers, and even to enemies in order to share in their sorrows and joys, your life and your story will be all the richer for it.