Empathy | Joy to Joy and Tear to Tear

May 5, 2016

Empathy.1 Chasing down a cab in the rain in lower Manhattan all I wanted to do was to get back to Brooklyn as fast as possible.  It was like I had just found out there had been a death, and in actuality it was a death of sorts.

As we pulled up to her apartment I re-read the text, We broke up.

I walked in and saw her sitting on the couch, knees to her chest, with tear-stained cheeks.  She looked small.

When our eyes met it was as though I could physically feel the pain she was emitting.  She was blindsided, the pain and confusion written all over her body.  I slid onto the couch next to her as she began to recount it: the moment she knew where the conversation was headed, the last lingering hug, the regret.

Tears began to drip down my cheeks in unison with hers.  Her pain was mine, and I ached for her—over the breakup, for the journey of pain she was about to embark on.  It felt intimate and vulnerable to be let into her heartache.  It was an honor.

Only a little over a year ago on a late Saturday night I stumbled into the same apartment, collapsed onto the same couch, and she held me while I recounted, through hiccuped sobs, my own breakup.

Over the years I’ve watched many of my friends go through heartache, but mostly as a bystander.  I wanted to be there, but I didn’t know how.

I would give long hugs, and listen until the early hours of the morning. Slowly my patience would turn to annoyance.  Can’t she just get over him?  What is taking so long?  Why can’t she move on with her life?

I felt as though I watched from the outside as people in my life went in and out of relationships and heart break.  Outwardly supportive, inwardly I sighed with relief when finally we could get through a conversation without it somehow turning back into some story about him.

I was patient to a point, and understanding to an extent, but there was something missing: empathy.

This changed when I went through a breakup last year.  I’ve been through breakups before, and felt hurt when things ended.

But this was different.

Maybe because I’m older, and there’s more at stake in your 30s than when you’re 18 and breaking up because you’re going to different colleges.

Maybe it was because this was the first time I had let my walls down in a very long time.  Or that dating him felt like having healing waters washing over me after the string of bad dating experiences I had throughout my 20s.  Or maybe it was just that I fell hard for him.

Whatever it was, the pain went deep, and lasted well past the amount time we dated.  Coming out of the fog of my own heartache was a process that mystified me.  None of the answers I had given to my friends over the years were helpful.  I lived the pain, the reality of what it is to be constantly thinking of him.  No matter how hard I tried, I found myself turning any conversation back to him.  There were moments in my own grief where I realized this is what they must have felt like, and I felt crushed at my lack of empathy.  I wanted to reach out to all my friends and apologize, and let them know that I simply didn’t know what they were going through.  Now I do.

On a rainy Thursday night as my friend’s heart seemed to be breaking before my eyes, I could finally feel it with her.  It was my turn to hold her physically, and hold the sacred space of letting someone into your pain.  As I listened through her bewildered sobs I wondered if sometimes we need to experience pain ourselves before we can really be with someone in theirs.

As I left, the only words I felt could be any consolation were the ones she gave me last winter: the sun will rise again my love.  As painful as this night was, I knew it to be true.  Because when she said it to me it was true.

I lived through the heartache, and made it to the other side a better, more whole person for having gone through it.  The sun did rise, and over time the heaviness did lift.

As love, compassion, patience, kindness, and understanding have been so deeply extended to me, I want to extend the same to those I love.  I don’t want to be a bystander to joy or to pain.

XO,

Kat

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