I have never lived in an active war zone. I’m guessing most reading this have not. It is hard for me to imagine the pain, devastation and loss that one is confronted with in the midst of crisis, war and violence. My comfortable life and a 24-hour news cycle means that I can be numbed to tales of bombings and ongoing crises. Yes, because it’s far away, but also because my own empathy skills slip to become un-honed and un-practiced.
There is so much to say about a world where a Russian tyrant continues to invade neighboring and sovereign Ukraine, and where renewed, hostile and atrocious attacks plague Palestine and Israel. There is much to say about right and wrong, about the long-term effects of being occupier and occupied, about the ethics of bombing attacks, military or civilian targets, about about justice, and about the hard, long, and tiring work of peace-making. This post acknowledges the complexity and difficulty in all these subjects…what can we even say, other than to simply call out for it to STOP.
This post acknowledges all of that, but isn’t about that. Rather, this post is about my own empathy.
First, I know what it is to feel at home. I know what it is to value my sense of belonging in my hometown, in my house, my yard, my community. I know the safety I feel in my spiritual community, in my grocery store, on my street.
Second, I know what it is to feel out of control. The birth of our firstborn was not a smooth one. Hours of labouring, dropping blood pressure and heart rates made the situation a crisis in a matter of seconds. Pushed out of the way, both of us parents doing our best to hang on in the midst of unknowing, in the midst of pain, in the midst of frantic mayhem, I felt out of control.
When I put these two experiences together, I can begin to practice what it means to have empathy and compassion for those halfway across the world. What would it mean to me to have my belonging, my safety, my community uprooted, destroyed, and ripped away from me? What would it mean that there is no longer any safe place left? Alongside, what would it mean to feel out of control, not just for 15 minutes until a baby was born (with joyously healthy and whole mom and child), but for an indefinite and unending time period? Home destroyed. Family unsafe or killed. Crisis, pain and uncertainty for as long as can be imagined. This is the mindset in which I must dwell because it’s here that I can empathize and feel for the faceless, nameless, and countless people that are suffering.
It’s in this way that I counteract apathy or helplessness. This connection to my own experiences and my own emotions that I know intimately is what ultimately connects me to others and keeps me focused on compassion. And from there, I can act. Without it, I will not be inspired or compelled to do anything but hide away until my yells for the violence to stop becomes a whisper too faint for even me to hear.
There is work to be done in finding just peace for so many around the world. I feel that before I can talk about any of it, I have to feel connection, compassion by recognizing those same emotions within me. This is empathy. How do you experience this? What are the experiences in your life that connects you emotionally and relationally to what you’re hearing in the news? How are you connecting to the work before the global community? What in your experience and your empathy toolbox will spur you onto the next steps?