The Art of Empathy

bampw-black-and-white-bus-girl-sad-Favim.com-403582I almost walked past her, this perfect stranger, but I saw something on her face, in the downward cast of her eyes, that spoke volumes.

“How are you doing today?” I stopped and asked. She had obviously been lost in her own world but I brought her back to a murky present. But she smiled at me anyway, a tired smile, but a smile nonetheless.

“I’ve certainly had better days,” she responded, looking up at me for the first time.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, knowing the answer might be one I didn’t want to hear, but I was saddened by her reply so I asked anyway.

“Well, are you sure you want to hear this?” the perfect stranger asked me, at once both sensitive to my time but also eager to get something off her chest.

“Of course I’m sure,” I reaffirmed.

“My ex has the kids this weekend for the first time by himself, and it’s a long weekend, and I miss them,” she said in a burst, obviously close to tears. I wanted to hug her and tell her that it all gets better time, but I couldn’t guarantee that, and I didn’t want to give her what might have amounted to false hope in the end.

“I don’t expect you to understand,” she continued, wiping a hand across her still-dry eyes as if anticipating the fall of tears still suspended. “It’s just tough.”

I listened to her with a down-turned mouth and a head nod that advertized empathy without being overly saccharine. Again I was overwhelmed with a desire to make everything better. It is probably my biggest character flaw, but I couldn’t change it any more than I could change my skin color.

“But I do understand,” I said, knowing all too well the consequences of divorce from the perspective of someone who has come from just such a broken home. There is the Before and there is the After, and the two don’t look anything alike, except for the late animosity of the Before that bleeds into the early anger of the After. Neither one truly goes away, and it all affects the kids more than parents can even guess.

“I do understand,” I said again, looking directly into her large, blue eyes. They were still brimming with unreleased tears, but her mouth began to turn up, just knowing that someone else understood, that there was another person out there in the world who was there for her. Even if it was a perfect stranger. Even if it was still the middle of her long first weekend away from her children. Sometimes that’s all it takes to make someone else’s life just a little bit better, letting them know that you understand. That you’re there. That you care.

“Thank you,” she replied, honestly, earnestly. On impulse I reached out and gave her the hug I had previously stopped myself from doing. And it felt good, caring for another human being, and showing that I cared, regardless of our status as near-perfect strangers, despite not even knowing her name, because none of that mattered. What truly mattered was the connection we made for a grand total of probably less than five minutes.

And even though I’ve never seen her again, I’d like to think that she still thinks of our interaction every once in a while and smiles.

Sam

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Twist

image

There’s the twist
That she never knew
And the moment has passed.

Sam

The ‘N’ Word

n word nieema fosterAs a parent I want to protect my children from anything and everything that could hurt them, but realistically that’s not possible. The best I can do is prepare them as well as I can for dealing with and overcoming those issues as they come up. Of course some of the biggest issues that could hurt them come from factors they have absolutely no control over, a fact that hurts even more because, even though I wouldn’t want them to change to fit someone else’s standard, at least it is a flexible thing. When someone hurts either of my children, for whatever reason, though, I am like a papa bear who wants to rip down the entire forest to get justice.

I knew from a young age that if I ever brought children into the world they would be judged, not merely on their mental capacity, or on their empathetic scale, or even on the style of dress they fancied, but also on the color of their skin. Even when I grew older and married a woman who just happened to be white, I knew that skin color would still be an issue, because our children would never be “just” white, so they would be different, especially around here. Yes, we’ve made some great gains in race relations and issues surrounding the tension therein, but prejudice still abounds, even if it is done more subtly now than ever before.

In the class photos you can see the differences, in the abundance of curly, kinky hair, in the fullness of the lips, in the curve of the nose. These characteristics she inherited from me, and I’m proud of that, that I can see some of myself, and of my heritage, in her, even just physically. She gets so much from her mother too, but the one thing that stands out most, especially when looking at the class photos, is her skin color. There is a bit of a Mariah Carey light mocha coloring she has that is so beautiful to me, but I know when others see it they have their own ideas. I will honestly never know why, but some people can’t stand what they don’t understand.

When we are out and about without my wife, it’s interesting to see how differently people treat us, and how they treat me in particular. We are a black family when I am with my children on my own. It’s plain to see when older black women smile at the kids, as if they were their own grandchildren, or when we pass older white couples who look at us like we’re a completely new species. These same older black women, and these same older white couples, treat us differently when we are all together. In fact, they tend to ignore us and go about their business. They don’t “get” us. They can’t wrap their brains around an interracial couple, a mixed race family, even now, in this day and age.

The first time I heard someone use the ‘N’ word I was probably about 8 years old and it was on my block, a place comprised of all black folk, and the term was meant to be endearing. Continue reading “The ‘N’ Word”

Checked Out: Week 20

allegiant-by-veronica-rothIt seems like the perfect storm this week when it comes to books for me. I already had Requiem, the final book in the Delirium series. Then Allegiant, the final book in the Divergent series arrived at the library for me. Not to mention I have to finish my book club book, The Sound of Things Falling, in time for the discussion group on Sunday night, AND the final book in the Mortal Instruments series, City of Heavenly Fire, came out on Tuesday, and I have been dying to read that one since I finished the last one in three days flat. Yeah, that’s a lot of books.

That means, though, that I had to put a few books on hold that I already had checked out. I just don’t have the time to finish them all, and some of them were only 14-day books, meaning I had to return them in two weeks’ time anyway. So back they went, hopefully to be checked out again in the near future (once I’m done with all these finales, oh, and the next Jack Reacher book)…

Checked In:

  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store, by Robin Sloan
  • The Haunted, by Bentley Little
  • Psychos, by Babe Walker

I will admit that I’m finding it a bit hard to read the book club selection for two reasons. The first is that I really want to finish Requiem and Allegiant so I keep flashing back to where I am in them while I try to read the other. And the second reason is that perhaps the book loses a little something in the translation from Spanish to English, but it just seems too… sterile. It takes a while to get going with the action that is definitely there. But it needs to get done by Sunday so I’m going to make it my priority today.

With that being said, here are the books I have Checked Out:

  1. Requiem, by Lauren Oliver
  2. Allegiant, by Veronica Roth
  3. The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
  4. Echo Burning, by Lee Child

That of course reminded me of how many series’ books I’m reading at the moment, something that seems to go in waves. This time last month I think I was only reading one series’ book. They tend to either come out at the same time or I just get around to them at the same time. I’m stopping by my local library today to see if I can get my hands on a copy of City of Heavenly Fire even though it’s in high demand right now. If push comes to shove, I can hope I get a Barnes & Noble gift card for Father’s Day so I can just purchase the Nook version of its eBook and read it that way.

And as always, I hope you’re still reading too. Let me know what you have checked out!

Sam

Checked Out Archive

When I’m Old

WhenImOldWhen I’m old
I want to be vibrant
To sparkle with life
Not wither and fade
Like weather vanes
In a dry season
I want to still dream
These young man’s dreams
To fall and rise again
As persistent as time
With its staid patterns
Yet random in places
Where you can find me
Never standing still
Smiling in retrospect
Like you knew I would
Because bodies fall apart
But experience lives on
Even when I’m old
When the world has moved on
I will live in your dreams
And you’ll remember me
My whispers in your ear
Those stories you relay
Will keep me relevant
Like a delicate flower
Soaking up the sun.

Sam

Childbirth Memories: 1995

hupTruth be told, I really hadn’t expected my sister to say yes, but after she did there was absolutely no way I was going to back out. I had actually been joking. You know, the type of joke where you laugh but the other person doesn’t. Yeah, my sister definitely wasn’t laughing when she said yes, and just like that I was going to witness a live birth. We were a month away from her due date but I got freaked out pretty much right away.

I was 18 at the time, having just started college that fall, and I had no clue at all about life beyond school. In fact, I didn’t even know much about school at the time either, having already missed multiple classes by that October. It was a whole new world for me, of parties, parties, and more parties. Eventually I knew I would have to grow up but that seemed to be in the far off future, something hazy to 18-year-old me. So, when my sister said yes, it was a huge dose of reality hitting me hard.

When I found out she was pregnant I was curious. I mean, for ages it had been just the three of us (my mom, my sister, and me), and I didn’t quite know how things would change adding someone else to the mix. And then there was becoming an uncle, something that seemed to me like an old person’s job back then. In fact, the first thing that crossed my mind when I found out was my own uncles, how solid and adult they were. I knew that wasn’t going to be me, not at first anyway. Maybe that’s why I asked to be there in the first place. Perhaps I knew even then that the experience would change me in numerous ways. Continue reading “Childbirth Memories: 1995”

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