Titles and visuals often come to me first with blog writing. Memories will pop into my head while making the bed or, these days, while hooking. Somehow the memory, the title, and the picture, come together like a wonderfully, worded puzzle.
My mother knew a lot about grief and loss. She and my dad lost their first child, Charles, who lived for just 4 days, in May of 1964. When she became pregnant again for my brother, Todd, she was naturally anxious. Then her sister came up to visit and said, “Stewart is going to have to fix your line soon with the baby coming.” My mom told me she couldn’t have felt more encouraged for the future because of those simple words spoken by her older, very wise, sister. Of course there would be a baby, and a clothesline was going to be needed.
You never know what small gesture or phrase is going to turn someone’s day or ease someone’s pain, and quite frankly I think that’s what living is all about: easing another’s pain. Because when you can do that, you help them, yourself, and perhaps several others in its rippling effect.
Emily Dickinson writes: if I can stop one heart from breaking I have not lived in vain. This from a woman who lived in supposed seclusion as a way of shielding herself from the pain of the world. And yet her words have eased my pain and and taught me more about understanding other’s as much as my own mother’s have. Just because you want to hide yourself away from the world sometimes doesn’t mean you do not feel for others. Just the opposite, you feel too much.
Is empathy taught or is it just intrinsic? When I received counselling training, one idea we discussed was the difference between sympathy and empathy. It had to have been a powerful lesson for me because I have never forgotten it. Sympathy to me is shorter lived. It’s provided in the early stages of grieving and as someone who continues to mourn, it’s not always helpful. Sometimes it can bring you right back to the starting line and you have to roll a six to get going again.
But empathy is different. Empathy is a silent gesture. It’s a pot of flowers on your step. It’s a quick text in the morning. It’s putting that extra curl in your hair. It’s remembering something you said, or cushioning the blow. It’s anonymous but it’s always there.
Being an empath can be hard. It’s like carrying a portable wailing wall with you… always. It’s huge and sometimes overpowering. I admittedly take breaks from it to refuel. The beach is very cathartic, so was camping. Hooking and writing can be a reprieve. But loving deeply and caring for others and wanting to make people feel less sad is just important, and I cannot make excuses for it anymore.
I’m not lowering gingerbread, in a basket, from the balcony yet, but I suppose it could come to that! And it’s great that I have the balcony should the urge arrive to treat the neighborhood children.
I do think empathy can be misguided sometimes. It is then that real exhaustion sets in. It’s not even wasted energy in a sense. It’s more like the person whom you want to help is just not anywhere near the same place as you in the receiving. And you must respect that as it is all part of the process. Patrick used to get deeply frustrated with me at these times because as someone who wanted to fix the hurt, he couldn’t stand the grueling days of self doubt and internalization I would put myself through before I would just let things be.
So, let’s go back to the finding of peace in the process. Do not over complicate. Keep the encouragement simple. Simple is good and reaches all in some way shape or form.
As her poem continues, Dickinson actually refers to the simplicity of one:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
I think that this is important to note from the one who wrote thousands and thousands of words to ease the pain of so many. She set reasonable goals and, I hope, lived the life she chose in reasonable happiness.
May we all be so lucky. There’s encouragement.
Melissa xo xo