shame or empathy

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Ooooh, this is a hard one. I don’t mind going deep when I end up there accidentally. But to start out deep is scary.

I’ll go with empathy. It’s easier.

My mom was an empath. She could feel other people’s pain. It was good, in a way. It’s easier to serve, and to know what to do when someone is in need, if you can imagine how they might feel. But my mom was also carrying a lot of her own pain. And I wonder if others’ pain on top of your own is too heavy a load to bear. If eventually it uses you up.

I take after my mom. My heart can literally hurt for someone else. I put myself in their shoes and get a glimpse–albeit tiny, I know–of what they must feel. Sometimes it helps me. I can almost anticipate what to do and how to be there for some people. But sometimes, as in the past few months, there has been so much loss and so much sorrow it’s overwhelming. And it makes me numb. I’m no good to anyone numb. And I don’t like how it feels, or doesn’t feel, as it were. It renders me ineffectual. I go through the motions and it feels empty. That last thing I want is to try to be there for someone who is wounded or grieving and show up empty.

The other day I found myself wondering if this is what it’s like to grow old(er)–still can’t bring myself to contemplate just plain “old.” The rest of the world–the people you love–age with you. And you try endure loss after loss after loss.

I can’t linger there. It’s too sad. I want to hang on to joy even amidst so much sorrow.

Which just reminded me. Empathy is not just about sorrow. You can feel someone’s joy as much as you feel their pain. Babies to be born. Couples to be wed. Trips to be traveled. Successes to be had. Love to be shared.

I will look harder for joys to be had. Rays of sunshine to be felt through the shade of clouds.

[Day 117 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

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