I’ve always been an empathetic person. I’m not sure what made me this way- whether it’s genetic, environmental- whether something instilled by my parents, or a sensitivity resulting from the difficulties of my youth. I could not watch someone else cry without joining in. I was aware of others suffering and prayed every time I heard an ambulance siren, imagining that someone was in need of my prayer.
I have assumed that this tragedy – my first, real, true tragedy- would heighten this sense of empathy greatly. And I think it has. I feel the pain of other widows intensely. When I hear of sudden deaths on the news, I consider the family left behind now more than I used to. I know what plans they’re making and how they move in shock outside of their own bodies.
on the flip side…
I have a really hard time now feeling empathy for life’s little tribulations. When people are upset about their career or their dream, I don’t feel much of anything. The biggest lesson one learns from this is that only death is permanent. Everything else can and usually does change. So you can still succeed in your career or maybe you won’t, but either way you’re still alive. Right?
Well, on Thursday as I was waiting for the ferry from the city, a young girl was walking to my line with a tear going down her nose and sniffling. She was texting on her phone or reading something. When she stood behind me on line she continued to let out a tiny sob and then some sniffles.
I debated about whether or not I should say anything- New Yorkers are usually very private and independent and I myself have sat quite obviously crying on subways numerous times (once on my way to the Dr. when I thought I was miscarrying for a second time) and no one’s said a thing. I think no one wants to get involved because it could get…”messy.” I know this firsthand. I once saw another woman looking distraught on a street corner near my workplace on 26th Street. In fact, she was slamming down a pay phone and so I stopped and asked if she wanted to use my cell phone and if she was OK. She broke down sobbing telling me that this boyfriend was using drugs and he wouldn’t take her call. By her babbling I soon realized she herself was the addict. Anyway, still she wound up sobbing in my arms while I prayed for her. Then we went our separate ways. But I told her about a recovery group at a large church I knew of and got her email. Twice we planned to meet there- I told her I would attend. I did. Both times, she never showed up. Finally, I mailed her a few books and ignored any other emails from her asking to get together. So yes, it can get messy.
Still- I finally put my hand on this girl’s back and ask her if she’s OK. Inside I am wondering what kind of sorrow has entered life. I think to myself, “I am a woman of sorrows- I should be able to comfort her.” Very dramatic, I know. I even think about saying this- “I’m a woman of sorrow- tell me what your story is.” Ha. I chuckle just thinking about this now.
Since she was on her phone, instead I just ask, “Did you get some bad news?” She manages to get out that she was promoted and then the promotion taken away from her. I’m slightly disappointed by this “sorrow.” But I try to be empathetic. “All in the same day?” “Yes!” she says. “Wow- that is upsetting.” And that’s all I can manage. “That is upsetting.” But then I slowly turn back to the line and the ferry comes and we get on. I can think of nothing else to say. I know that in the past I would’ve given it more. But it seems to me this girl is young and has a career that has even the prospect of promotion- and though she’s suffered a blow- her life is bursting with possibility and hope. I want to tell her that- but I don’t.