"I’ve got to stop being so emotional. If someone is sad, I normally start crying before they do."
Empathy may be one of the least common, but most precious of all human traits. Courage, passion, happiness, resilience, and kindness are beautiful, but there is something to be said for empathy. Just sitting quietly in the presence of the laughter, tears and open wounds of another and experiencing them as if they were your own. The ability to listen to someone in pain can be rare; to feel what another being is feeling without suggesting (“You should”), balking (“Why didn’t you”), or brushing aside (“Why don’t you”) and shed a genuine tear is something not often encountered, and all the more precious because of it.
I imagine that in the presence of pain, there is no salve quite like someone’s tears, shed for you. Those of us who are highly empathetic are used to giving, but do not often receive. We can often be moved to tears at the sight of someone else in pain, but when our own hearts are bruised, torn and wrenched, the eyes of others remain dry.
I sometimes wonder if it would not be better to be slightly less compassionate. It might be less emotionally taxing to feel people’s pain so readily. And then there are moments like a few weeks ago when I tutored a student who communicated his sadness over his father’s death in very limited, broken English. His loneliness and isolation was so palpable that I started to cry. In turn, he gave me a hug, smiled and said, “You…not my teacher… you…my… sister!” So then, dear, beautiful lady from India, you are not “too emotional.” To many people in your life, your heart’s stirrings is exactly the tonic they need against the bitter cruelties of life and loss.
A man strung out on speed is curled up and rocking on three of the seats reserved for the elderly on the metro rapid bus at rush hour, chanting inscrutable unknowns to himself. This is not terribly unusual—yet.
He starts shouting, and after signalling his stop, casually stands up, whistles, and while grasping the upper bars that most bleary eyed commuters are content to merely hold onto, the man spins backwards. The bus driver promptly stops the bus, and instructs the man off the bus. “Not here, I ain’t.” The man retorts.
The bus driver yells at the man, this time pointing his finger towards the door. The man’s eyes widen, and he throws his hands in the same way that The Karate Kid would have made if he were high. Then, maintaining his hands, the man scuttles sideways off the bus like a crab.
We spend the next hour sitting in traffic due to construction on Wilshire and an accident. Perhaps we collectively angered the traffic gods by kicking The Karate Kid off the bus.
The aspens lining his driveway were still clinging to a few of the grey leaves that Autumn had otherwise charmed, coaxed and whisked away several months before. The wrenches that he received as a high school graduation present, the now threadbare towels that he and she had been given the day of their wedding had been dumped on the table in front of the garage. He stood there, looking at the objects, imagining the past as it may never have occurred. A box of carefully placed stuffed animals sat off to the side.
"Excuse me, how much is this?" A duffel bag was lifted in front of him.
He glanced at the airline tag that must have been two decades old. He saw her name and their old address back at the studio apartment they shared when they first got married. The tag could have been from their honeymoon in Hawaii, or from visiting her family in New Jersey from any number of Christmases or Thanksgivings ago.
There were still a few things of hers in it, even after the bag had been delegated to the back corner of the garage. He still knew the color of the nail brush that was in the front left pocket. He remembered how the satin nighty that she buried in one of the side pockets draped over her frame.
"How about 50 cents?"
She used drive up to the house, wait for the door to open to their child for the weekend and then promptly drive off. Now that she had full custody after the affair, he didn’t see her at all. Messages he left on her machine had been unreturned. Several other women would occupy it briefly, but her side of the bed would always stay cold.
The tent they bought for a camping trip that ended with a rainstorm and an argument (the cause of which he could not recall), sat on the concrete. The last few reminders of her lingered, biding their time to bid farewell. A smirk passed over his mouth as someone bought her unopened espresso machine for a fifth of the sales tax he spent on it.
The house would be purged of her. Newer, less flowery and more utilitarian dishes would be used, and her shoe rack would house his Blu-Ray collection. Their child’s discarded memories had no more use, here, now that he hardly ever saw either of them any more. He tried to remember which graduation he had attended most recently, and gave up when he realized it had be over four years since he sat through such a painful occasion. He dared not try to remember which birthdays he had missed.
A couple driving past slowed down to observe the crowd of people gathering around the last of her.
"Can we look? We’ve been needing some new towels, I want to check out the ones on the grass."
"C’mon, seriously? Yard sales are just people for getting rid of the crap they don’t need and for people who can’t afford anything new."
He thought about making some coffee as the breeze nipped his ears and nose. Instead, he continued to shiver in the pale sunlight as he watched the vultures pick her bones clean.