“Your heart is like a great river after a long spell of rain, spilling over its banks. All signposts that once stood on the ground are gone, inundated and carried away by that rush of water. And still the rain beats down on the surface of the river. Every time you see a flood like that in the news you tell yourself: That’s it. That’s my heart.” ~Haruki Murakami
For Egyirba High, my sister from another mother
Life as an empath ain’t easy.
I’ve written about this before — but I feel it nudging me again. Sometimes it’s hard to live in this world. It hurts. My heart feels like it’s riddled with bullet holes.
I empathize with the mother whose child was murdered by someone ‘standing his ground.’ I ache for the thousands of dead turtles, fish and birds rotting in coal ash waste on the edges of the Dan River. My eyes fill with tears when I read about factory farming practices that include grinding up piglets and feeding them back to their own mothers.
I can hardly believe what I am hearing on the news — it is so ghastly and so heartrending — that I wonder if I can stand to continue to bear to witness to it.
How did we become these people?
This country didn’t used to be such a cold place.
It’s never been perfect. Walk through poor parts of Mississippi or Appalachia to refresh your memory, if need be. However, to me, as a child, it felt like a place that had promise. A place that was built on the solid ideals of our founding fathers. Like a nation where we could give birth to something unique in the world: a country where anyone could advance to any position in society through hard work.
Not any more.
Now, even things like education don’t buy you a good life.
And people are understandably angry about that. I know I am. It seems the ‘rules’ of the game (work hard, keep your head down, do a good job, get an education) no longer apply.
So, we see things unraveling. We see chaos. We see fear. We see our society falling apart.
A young man was recently gunned down over the fact that he was playing loud music in his car at a gas station. A fifteen-year-old girl was shot to death for egging a house.
Their very existence so frightened the person with the gun that he decided to personally deliver the death penalty, without an indictment, without a trial, without a judge, and without a jury. He decided things with a fear-laden bullet.
These problems are connected to a severe, almost catastrophic lack of empathy. It seems that the only folks worth caring about (to some) are folks that are just like them. If ‘caring’ involves putting yourself in the shoes of the ‘other’ and seeing the world differently, that’s absolutely out of the question.
“Power comes not from the barrel of a gun, but from one’s awareness of his or her own cultural strength and the unlimited capacity to empathize with, feel for, care, and love one’s brothers and sisters.” ~ Addison Gayle, Jr.
It didn’t used to be this way…
I didn’t used to feel like such a fish out of water, wearing my bruised heart on my sleeve.
I didn’t used to feel as though I couldn’t relate to the people that filled every corner of the world.
These days, I feel like a stranger in a strange land.
Like the main character in the novel, The Island of the Blue Dolphins, I feel as though I am the last of my people, standing on a desolate shore, unable to communicate. No one else speaks my language, and my words scatter around my feet like heavy stones.
“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.” ~ Gautama Buddha
Finding my tribe.
Growing up I felt certain there was a whole tribe of people whose hearts were like mine. Hearts that broke at the sight of slaughter and chaos and war. Hearts that longed to build the world up, not tear it apart.
I still believe that.
And I do meet like-minded souls more often now. They find me via social media and send me messages of joy and recognition: You’re like me! I read your words and I felt like I was reading my diary. I didn’t realize that anyone else felt that way–
Their messages encourage me and make me feel less alone. I admit, it’s heartening to know that my small voice is echoing inside the soft chambers of their hearts and minds.
They are my most kindred kin.
But a part of me continues to worry: will the others wake up in time? Will there be any life left on earth when they finally understand how deep and how breathtaking and how beautiful this life can be?
So, I lie in my bed and I worry, and wonder, and watch as this world burns.
And my heart recoils in fear, and sometimes in pain, and sometimes in brittle heartbreak. I watch this tiny movie called life and I hope that the players will eventually understand the stakes they’re facing. I think about my four-year-old nephews and the wreckage we are leaving them — two bright little lightning bugs — who turned one-year-old on the day of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
And I remind myself of the Murakami quote above: my heart is a great river, a glittering, rushing river. I remind myself that it may overflow its banks, but there will never be more water than I can handle.
I am flooded with the realization that I cannot give up. I cannot give up.
And neither can you.
© 2014 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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