Thursday, October 02, 2008

Empathy

October 1st, 2008

My great aunt had a stroke and is rapidly dying. She’s currently unaware of her surroundings. She was or is—depending on theological niceties—a lovely woman whom we’ll miss terribly.

Death was not something I dealt with frequently as a child. Something about the spacing of the generations. But in the past eight years or so, relatives have fallen off more frequently, as if the crop had ripened and is now ready for harvest.

I am sometimes aware, after a long conversation with someone I love, of a terrible fear. I’ll put down the phone, a smile on my lips over some closing joke between us, and be floored by my own affection for the friend, the family member, and like a cold shower the thought comes: what about when something bad happens to that person?

I don’t mind my own pain when it comes. My old fears and depressions have been with me since puberty threw my brain out of whack, and I’ve pearled them all over so they sit in me, large but smooth. And new pains I can handle—I know how to rationalize away their sharper corners, how to act on them and distract from them. God has yet to strike me with anything that can’t be suffered through and eventually poeticized away.

But sadness in other people, people I love, is different. I have no access to it, no clue how to handle it, how to get a hold on it, how to make it stop. When people I love hurt, and I’m left with nothing but bromides to keep repeating like a white incantation, I understand why people pray.

So, for example, I’ll think after talking to David: “My God, I love that kid.”

And I pause, and realize the gaping vulnerability stuck open in me.

I suppose we all bleed for each other. We play music on a doomed ship.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post. Thanks.

Scott said...

Ah, anonymous love. I'll take that.