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Sunday, January 26, 2014

She Sang With Abandon to a Song on the Radio.

About ten years ago, I went to a coffee shop in Parksville to meet a friend. Another patron was there, a woman who looked to be in her early twenties; there was something going on with her that gave the impression that she was developmentally challenged—something in her posture or her speech—but that's not what ultimately drew my attention to her.

"Unbreak My Heart" was playing in the café via a local radio broadcast, and this young woman was quietly singing her guts out to this song. Her eyes were closed; tears streamed down her face; her hands gestured with every word. She didn't seem sad—she just seemed like she was deeply connecting with the song itself.

I'd heard this song a million times over the years—I liked it well enough—but somehow this woman changed the whole feel of the song. It was such a vulnerable, childlike, private display that I was, at first, unsettled, but her freedom and expressiveness moved me so deeply that I've never forgotten her. I hope that wherever she is today that she still has the same unfettered freedom and innocence.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Detritus from a years-old divorce.

A couple of years ago, I passed by the old cabin where my ex-husband and I lived with our two children. There was still stuff left there from our divorce nine years ago; he'd abandoned the car and van that I signed over to him when I went to Toronto. I guess the property owners don't go up to the cabin very often, nor are they motivated to remove those old cars. In the now-rusty station wagon was his old teddy bear that he'd had from the time he was a little kid. He'd left that behind, too.

I cracked opened the car, choked on the stench that filled my nostrils, and pulled out the teddy bear. It seemed so sad in that old, abandoned car, and it was covered in mould. He's allergic to penicillin, so I figured it would be a bad idea to try to clean it up and send it to him. I left it there, sadly, and drove away.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

On Empathy for Folks in the Media

Today, an acquaintance of mine was talking on Facebook about Honey Boo Boo and her family being in a car accident on Monday night. Some people were indignant about even caring, and criticized the original poster about even mentioning it when there are other people in the world more "worthy" of sympathy or empathy. Another commenter even went so far as to wish the Boo Boo family "poorly" instead of wishing them well. As a follow-up empathy "test", the original poster shared a link to a news story about O.J. Simpson's apparent brain cancer.

People are people. Everybody hurts. I don't wish cancer on anyone. If O.J. has cancer, then my condolences go out to him for the suffering he has to experience. What is required of me beyond that? He's not a "real" person in my mind—he's a media projection with whom I have no relationship. He's too abstract and has turned into a caricature (either by his own choice or by the whole media machine, or both). I mean, of course he's a "real" person, but I only know about him because of the media. By the time I get back to work in a few minutes (after I've finished this post), I won't think about O.J. and his potential cancer diagnosis. Does that mean I lack empathy? I don't think so.

Empathy/compassion/etc. is cultivated choice by choice, I believe. And in this media-heavy, information-saturated age, it's important to balance our intake of such information lest we totally fracture or numb ourselves out on all the people we can cry with or vilify. Every day on Facebook—multiple times a day, even—I see posts that truly hurt my heart, status updates of people dying, people being sick, people wandering off and curling up somewhere and dying. Last night, in fact, I couldn't sleep well, thinking about someone I once knew years ago who was missing for two months and was discovered deceased on New Year's Day. I watched all this unfold over Facebook (and on the news) from the time she went missing in October; I had to unfollow the Facebook page because I was fretting about it *constantly*.

It's best to be cautiously aware of what's going on in the world, but if we're not alive to our next-door neighbour, local barista, co-workers, bankers, as well as our spouses, our children, etc. and their basic needs or potential suffering, then what does *that* say about our empathy? That's a far more accurate, real-world test.