The Web of Empathy

These 4 lovelies are all ok, so thankful. Hearing about the tsunami and quake in Japan was a shocking surprise yesterday morning.  I learned of it from a Japanese friend’s FB status, moments before bolting out the door to an appointment. I immediately felt relief that she was ok, clicked through to a hard-to-take-in news story about it, and felt a deeper twinge of sorrow as I discovered that one of the hardest hit cities, Sendai, was one that I’d been to years ago.


Those two personal connections were enough to make me feel more empathetic towards the victims of this disaster than normal. Of course I feel sad and often horrified upon hearing bad news in general, but I feel a stronger kinship when I can relate personally, through friends or specific memories. The more ability I have to empathize, the more I feel it. A mother losing a child? I feel that very strongly, as I can only imagine the pain, but I’m a mom and so I relate. My web of empathy is made up of situations I can relate to, people I know, or places I’ve been. I can’t possibly feel everything sad I read about on a deep level, or I’d be flattened on a daily basis. The weight of the world.


We hear so much more news now than previous generations, that we have to find bearable ways to filter it. I think the world of blogging and social media has jumped that up another level, because now I can see the intimate details and emotional ourpourings of people all over the world, and even share my own :). I feel connected to and invested in people I’ve never met, and likely never will. This is wonderful in many ways, and opens up the pathways for many fantastic communities of support and kinship to flourish. Indeed, that friend in Japan? I knew her online for years before we met in person (once), and treasure that relationship to this day.


I worry about the filters though. With so many things to care about, how do we parcel out our energy? I know that I’ve found myself at times more emotionally invested in a perfect stranger pouring out their troubles online, than in my own friends, family, and neighbors. It can be great, and lead to understanding, help, and wonderful support. But if it’s the only place we’re connecting, I don’t think it’s healthy. Fierce hugs, real shoulders, and wet cheeks are mighty strong medicine in the midst of pain. Perhaps I shouldn’t worry, and just assume that I’ll always have the capacity to empathize and share sorrow when I need to.


I hate to say it too, but sometimes I need to scratch an emotional itch, I need to cry, and so I find something to help me unlock that door. No, I’m not the most emotionally-available sort of gal, it takes a little digging to get past my armor! A good movie often does the trick, or a random blog-find or news article can do the job too. It’s not fake feeling, I really do enter in to it, but it’s more of a conscious choice to find something to care about than a matter of stumbling across something accidentally.


As for the continuing reports and images coming from Japan, my heart is most heavy. I pray for strength and healing, and know it’s the least I can do. My web has grown these last 24 hours, finding personal threads of my friends in and from Japan, feeling their pain and distress, and making it mine too. This is what friends do. This is what keeps us sane.