“Living well is an art that can be developed: a love of life and ability to take great pleasure from small offerings and assurance that the world owes you nothing and that every gift is exactly that, a gift.” – Maya Angelou.
Have you ever interacted with someone that seemed to radiate? There’s a certain genuine openness about their features. You can physically see that they think about things that are lovely. They filter the world through a level of trust, empathy, optimism, and believe that good things will happen and people can change. When they are in a room, they stand out. They embody grace.
In many ways, I am a very empathetic person. When the situation calls for it, I jump in with both hands. A few nights ago, I clocked out at work and stayed an hour after close so I could catch a mouse and spare my coworker the gore of cleaning out the mousetrap in the morning**. If I see the need, or if someone tells me that they need me, I am there. I will drop anything and everything. I’m a good crisis friend. I’m working on being a better non-crisis ‘there to just hang out with’ friend, but, as it stands, I am the person to call when various body fluids hit the fan.
In many other ways, I have a cynical edge that sort of trips up the whole ‘Mother Teresa’ vibe that I want to emanate. I swear. A lot. Happily. I pause the TV and chuckle at the faces I catch of actors. I struggle to see the human behind the needy customer. I watch dash cam footage of Russian car accidents and don’t even flinch. I’m saturated with specialized activist groups and family dynamics and friends who have businesses and blogs and and charities and organizations and employers and educators and world leaders and world tragedies that all demand my attention and my empathy and my action.
It feels like I have finite resources that are constantly chopped into smaller and smaller pieces to spread among all of these things the world is dropping at my feet. We need a percentage of your emotion about the nine people killed on a bus in Europe. We need you to be outraged how the church discriminates against homosexuals. We need you to be outraged about how homosexuals discriminate against people’s religious convictions. Be upset about ISIS as radicalized Islam. Be upset that people are connecting ISIS actions to Islam. Feel bad for the homeless person who had water poured under him outside of Tim Hortons. Feel bad for the owner who didn’t want to lose business.
I’m lucky. I can comfortably juggle opposing views and grasp, to whatever extent, where both are coming from. I don’t have a problem with that. But the continuous outpour from both sides of so many different groups and beings asking for equal amounts of energy and resources leads me to understand, but not care. I can see it, but I don’t feel it. I don’t respond.
I know it can be done better though. Somewhere, I do still believe that empathy and love and outrage are not finite resources. I do still believe that caring increases the capacity to care. Loving increases the capacity to love. The people who trust in the return of the energy they give seem to be the ones who radiate beauty from their core.
Maya Angelou was one of those people. She had every reason handed to her as a child to become just another broken soul left behind. Instead, she wrote. Furiously, beautifully, phenomenally. She found her footing in words and used them to say thank you.
When I watch her talk, I feel still. Humbled. I see a woman who has put in the work to walk the line well between being strong and being soft.
When a child is acting out, there are times where logic and discipline are appropriate. The level-headed approach where you leave them to have a tantrum can be effective and efficient.
But there are times when the situation goes beyond simply ignoring it or rationally explaining why it doesn’t make sense to cry for a list of reasons. When that happens, you need to sit with the child, on their level, in their pain. You hold them close and let your shirt get hot and damp with their tears. Sometimes you don’t say anything, you just share their space and let them process emotions that you can’t understand.
I don’t think the world needs my brain right now. I think we have a generation of broken people who need others, who probably don’t understand, to sit with them. If we all have our guards up and keep screaming back and forth about why beliefs and feelings do or do not make sense, we will become harder, colder, and more isolated.
In the words of Mother Teresa, I want my heart to break “so completely that the whole world falls in.”
** The epic tale of the mouse:
We called him Babar. Pescaroll. Pascal. I left after an hour as there was no sign of him. In the morning, we realized that he ate lasagne off of four mousetraps and lived to tell the tale to his little mouse friends, or just to relive in his mind as he fell asleep (we aren’t entirely sure how social of a rodent he is).
That evening, we saw his tiny tail sticking out of a box. One plastic bag later, he was let go in the sunny garden as nature intended.