“So if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I’ll bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. If I ask you about women, you’d probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You’re a tough kid. And I’d ask you about war, you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, “once more unto the breach dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. You’ve never held your best friend’s head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I’d ask you about love, you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn’t know what it’s like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn’t know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes, that the terms “visiting hours” don’t apply to you. You don’t know about real loss, ’cause it only occurs when you’ve loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much. And look at you… I don’t see an intelligent, confident man… I see a cocky, scared shitless kid. But you’re a genius Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you.”
~Sean: Good Will Hunting
Most people will recognize this quote, but it is definitely worth a re-read from time to time. It speaks volumes about life, and how we as human beings really can only fully understand what someone may be feeling inside, or what has made someone they way he/she is…when we have lived through the same experiences. Even then, we cannot completely understand because everyone is different. Be it through nature or nurture, we all have a pool of experiences to draw from and guide our reactions. Be that as it may, to practice empathy is a wonderful thing. It allows us to step outside of ourselves, and into someone else’s shoes. In my opinion, it is one of the most important qualities…to be empathic. It makes the playing field even, difficult as this is to do. Because life is not “even”. Life is not “fair.”
As a parent, one of the biggest challenges I face daily is remembering that my children have not experienced all of the things that I have, although they may think they know more than I do about so much. What they really know is how they feel, and it is up to me to try and understand exactly that. Easier said than done of course.
I will share with you the spark that prompted this post, as I admit I have not felt many of them lately:
I pulled the last blanket onto my bed and tightly tucked it in, fluffed the pillows, turned on the baseball game, and plopped myself down. There was a red fleece blanket sitting rolled up at the foot of the bed, and I covered my legs with it. Next thing I knew, I was overcome with memories. The blanket was given to my father when he was hospitalized, during the last few months of his life. I vividly saw myself covering him in it after I had realized how cold it was in his room. He liked it cold. I still covered him with the blanket because it was a refreshing change from the scratchy white hospital ones, and it made me feel like we could have been at home, instead of where we were. It was nighttime, and his room was dark, and as he slept I watched him, thinking…”now he looks comfortable.” I remembered the late night drifting into the wee morning hours after one procedure he had done. The procedure that took his voice away. I knew he did not completely understand what he would wake up to, and so I sat in the chair in his room- against the rules of the ICU. I remember the moment when his ICU nurse looked at me, huddled and almost hiding in the corner in the chair for fear she would ask me to leave. It was then that she probably saw in my eyes that “the term ‘visiting hours’ didn’t apply to me.” Thus, these memories prompted me to share one of the greatest movie quotes ever, written so perfectly and spoken so well.
On one level in this life we are all the same. We will all experience moments of happiness, excitement, disappointment, loss, and longing. It’s life. We just need to live it. I don’t believe people are expected to immediately identify with another’s circumstances. It’s difficult. I do believe that if we remember to be kind to one another, the rest will follow in time.
Life is a journey, and the people we meet along this journey are there for us to learn from and learn with. So I write it again: Be kind to one another.
“Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes”. ~Cherokee tribel of Native Americans
“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”~Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1960
“But you’d have to walk a thousand miles in my shoes just to see what its like to be me. I’ll be you. Let’s trade shoes.”~ Eminem, Beautiful