the other day, i said to a friend, “i have a ridiculous amount of empathy for anyone trying to raise a child today.” i paused a moment then added, “i also have a ridiculous amount of empathy for anyone trying to grow up today.” after a beat i just went for the full message i wanted to convey, “oh shit,” i said, “i just have a stupid amount of empathy for anyone who even tries to get out of bed these days.”
i meant it.
why? because i am a person who tries to get out of bed and i know lots of others who try to do the same. i also know the thing we all need more of is empathy.
here’s the thing: life is really hard. really. hard.
i’ve known this for a long time and yet it never ceases to amaze me how many ways this adage proves itself true. even still, we mostly keep on living. our lungs take in oxygen, our hearts pump blood, and we breathe and blink (as my daughter so beautifully states). difficulties we could never imagine present themselves. situations so absurd they border on comical (if they weren’t so terrible) knock us off course. rumors are spread, cars are smashed, jobs are lost, chemicals become so familiar to our systems that we sacrifice relationships for them, children suffer, people die, others live (especially the ones that are so hard for us to live with), and hurts of all kinds trickle into our lives like ants seeking a crumb on the kitchen floor. they congregate, it seems, until we feel hopeless or numb, overtaken and overwhelmed, defeated.
the most frequent action i notice, in response to the events and occurrences that make life hard, is isolation. “what would people think?” “they would never understand.” “this is all my fault.” “i suck!” “they have it so together.” “i am a magnet for this crap.” are all messages we play like a scratched vinyl record over and over in our heads. eventually the messages take hold and we hide away in our literal or intrapersonal closets.
what we show on the outside is oh so different from the mantras occupying our minds and keeping us hidden away. like the man behind the curtain in oz, we construct falsified selves that keep people so distracted or mesmerized or revolted or whatever that no one thinks to stop and evaluate whether or not this “wizard” is actually real. our false smiles, our impeccable appearances, our “i’m greats,” our excuses, and a plethora of other habits create smoke and mirrors. in our certainty that our pain is a reflection of our worth or that our suffering is an indication of our lack, we hide ourselves away. sharing our hurts, revealing our wounds, being honest about how much empathy we need all become impossible feats when we’re sure they’ll garner us nothing but more judgement, pain, and rejection.
none of this helps.
it’s time to pull back the curtain. it’s time to let ourselves know that we are only human. it’s o.k. for others to realize this as well. sure, we’ve trained ourselves and the people in our lives to think of us as great and all powerful but we aren’t and there’s such relief in that reality. there’s comfort in your humanity greeting my humanity and expecting nothing more. or less. from this shared space we can welcome each other with the open arms and gracious acceptance that empathy paves the way for. we may not know the perfect thing to say. we might bumble and disappoint and need to actively fight our tendency to judge and label. we might have to appear unprepared and less than perfect, but we’ll be real and honest and known and loved from there. and Lord knows, we all need that. and we need to give it as well.
so i begin this week with the curtain open and my humanity up front. i welcome yours as well...even if you think i do not. one thing is for sure...our hurting, real, vulnerable, beautiful, frustrating humanity is the one thing that we most certainly share.