Embrace Empathy

Ontario travels 012

In our hands we hold fragile feelings some days. The emotions can get crushed in the wrong hands. I have been counting my blessings these weeks and months that I am surrounded by caring and gentle friends. I am well aware that words that are meant to be kind can instead sting. Today’s Gospel has the repentant tax collector, standing off, not looking toward heaven, but instead striking his breast in shame and begging, “Be merciful unto me, O God, a sinner!” I have certainly been there. I have said and done the wrong things at crucial times. We all have.

During my illness most people have said the right things and to be honest what people need to hear varies. For me, I try to remain positive so when people react with negativity and gloom, that is not helpful. As many identities are stripped away from me, I have a need to maintain some activities and interests that I love to do. I need people to recognize that too as they try to help in other areas. I am trying to balance the optimism with reality so I do not always need people to cheerlead in case I am dealing with hard news. I am trying to stay in the present moment–and yes–sometimes that moment sucks so stay there with me. We can do it together. For those who need to leap to the future, you go alone, because I am not accompanying you and your fears. For my friends who have been here and are here with their own illness, I hear you and I take heart in your story. You might need something different than me and that is important for people to know too. You may need to hear one thousand hopeful stories to conquer your fear. You may need to rant and rave. You may need someone to be a Puddleglum. What is helpful is to try to tell people what you need in a kind and loving manner.

For those who do not know what to say or do, maybe that is more than ok. In fact, Brene Brown has this neat little clip that came out on empathy and she says that might be the best stance to take. If you click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw Brene talks about empathy being a much healthier place than sympathy. Empathy, she says, in this video, fuels connection, where sympathy actually disconnects. I have felt that disconnection with people sometimes on this journey and have wished I could say something to people to help them connect. This blog is one way of attempting to do that.

I have had two men and one woman say to me that it has been a privilege for them to learn the news and accompany me. The first time I heard that word, it jarred me. A privilege seems an odd word but I found it consoling. I believed I was giving people a burden to bear–and these men helped me to realize that it is a gift. I gift you with my hard news because I care about you and I want you to share this journey. You return the gift when you receive it respectfully and agree to yoke yourself to my suffering in small and simple ways. I have said, and I will say again, the best action you can do is pray for me.

Like that tax collector in the Gospel, I am aware of my own sinful nature, and I ask for mercy for the times that I have been less than gracious on this path. My tiredness sometimes get the best of me and I snap. People say that challenges call forth the best and worst in a person. I pray for more grace so that the best raises its head more often than the worst. I also add my own desire to embrace empathy when I can. I know this news is hard and I do not want to add to certain people’s pain by hurting them. I hope to behave more like a wounded healer than a wounded heel, but I know I will fall short some days. I know those who are important to me will forgive me and I hope they know I forgive them when they mess up.

God be merciful to us as we plod along this path. May we know your abundant grace and love.

Peace,

Suzanne

About sstyves

A Canadian prairie girl rooted in Ignatian spirituality, I seek God in all things. Whether I catch a glimpse of the Divine and delight in its presence in nature or in the beauty of an encounter with someone, I am ever so grateful that I can recognize the Creator. I greet each new day with hope and happiness, expecting blessings and miracles because I am created to praise, love and serve God. This blog is one way of realizing that through my writings, prayers, and photography. To God be the Glory!
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