AN ESSAY ON EMPATHY
I think as far as people go, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Personality traits that help us to become successful and flaws that get in the way of our aspirations and relationships. One of my flaws is that I am maybe not the most empathetic or sensitive. Well knowing this peculiarity in my character, I was worried about becoming a mother. Would I be able to see things from my children's perspective? Would I be nurturing enough? Would I do my best to be patient and understanding? Some of these questions are yet to be answered because my boys are still young and other things have been more instinctual than I expected. However, as a citizen of the world, I may still need some work and I had an experience in the market today that has me thinking.
I was next in line ready to buy my groceries, reading a trashy magazine and trying to figure out why I am supposed to care about the state of Brangelina, when I felt a hard, almost aggressive tap on my shoulder. It shocked me not only because I didn't expect it, but also because of how invasive it felt. I turn around to see a woman standing behind me holding two large canisters of formula. She asked me if I could please buy them for her. She had an exotic look and I could see she was missing several teeth. Her voice was soft but, I could hear her desperation. I paused for a moment still in shock and noticed the long line of people behind me staring at us. I asked "How much?" as in how much money would this be costing me. I knew how much formula was and I could see that what she was asking for would be pretty expensive but as I heard the words come out of mouth, I knew it wasn't the right response. She stepped to the side to reveal a baby boy curled up asleep in the small seat of the cart, I guessed he was just a couple months younger than Wolfie. He had no car seat, blankets or padding, just a thin layer of clothing between him and the metal basket. After a few more moments and several pleas from the woman, I nodded my head, took the formula and set it down next to the piles of baby stuff I already had on the belt.
My whole body shook while the cashier rang up each item at a snail's pace, as she tried to make chit-chat about how colorful the reusable bags I brought were. I looked over my shoulder to see the woman standing by the entrance of the store now holding her still sleeping baby. When I brought over the formula, she passionately expressed her gratitude and I danced around accepting her thanks. I asked about her boy and told her that I had sons, passed her some coupons for the next time she needed formula and walked away avoiding eye contact. I broke out into sobs the second I stepped outside and felt the cold chill.
That boy doesn't have a blanket and he will be cold out here. I should have gotten him a blanket.
I cried off and on all day. I thought of our boys, the same age and wondered if they would ever cross paths. I wondered if the woman and her family had a home or a car and if the boy had to be outside in the winter air. I wondered if he had food at home besides the formula and hoped he hadn't been without a bottle long. I then thought of all the selfish things I had just done for myself. I thought of how I had spent 3 minutes trying to decide on whether to buy the planner with the white cover or the black cover. I thought of how I bought the most expensive yogurt for the boys because it has whole milk and less sugar. I cursed the way I responded to the woman and how it was my gut reaction to answer, "How much?" But mostly I cried for the scrawny, guiltless little boy.
As I said in the beginning, empathy is not one of my strengths. This essay is in no way to brag about my charity because in my mind, I just awkwardly agreed to helping someone without taking much action on my part.
I may not have as much compassion as some but after some self examination today, I don't think it is because I am cruel. I think some of us need a shield from feeling all the feels. It can be too overwhelming to see and hear things that seem out of our control. There are so many things to be done to help others in this world but where can one start? If you don't know, it is easiest to not start at all.
When I told my husband about my experience today and explained how badly I felt for not doing more he text me, "You did what you could...You can't solve every problem. Best thing we can do is raise boys with compassion and make the world better when we leave it." I hope he doesn't mind me sharing because it was really helpful to get me out of my spiral.
I want to be better about not only showing empathy towards my sons but showing them how to be empathetic towards others. First, I must make the change myself. I guess I just started.