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What Happens When We Put Empathy Into Practice?

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'It's Because You Left Me ... '

When Trocme was 10 years old, he was in a car accident. His father drove too fast, the car spun out of control and his mother was thrown through the air and landed, lifeless, 30 feet from the wreckage. Andre saw the body and suffered a hurt so great, the pain, the unfairness of it all, gave him a dark, almost blackened courage. He had seen the worst. After that, nothing frightened him.

Many years after the accident, he wrote a letter to his dead mother, a confession:

"If I have been a fatalist, and have been a pessimistic child who awaits death every day, and who almost seeks it out, if I have opened myself slowly and late to happiness, and if I am still a somber man, incapable of laughing whole-heartedly, if it's because you left me that June 24th upon that road.

"But if I have believed in eternal realities ... if I have thrust myself toward them, it is also because I was alone, because you were no longer there to be my God, to fill my heart with your abundant and dominating life." -- Malcolm Gladwell, in Robert Krulwich Wonders

I experienced a similar emotional devastation like the one in the touching story above, and I'm sure there are many of us can relate to it. Every story like it has become a guide that has helped moved me forward to another calling in my life. Even if I might have over-protected my five-year-old daughter as the result of being a solo parent; she was the biggest blessing that threw me headlong into practicing empathy instead of dwelling in loss, thereby affecting those around me. I've come to know blessings in many different disguises, experiences that might have otherwise stunted my spiritual growth had I not known the emptiness and pain of being alone. The question is, do things happen so develop more empathy and enable us to knowing there is more to life than our own suffering? I believe they do.

These questions and ideas bring great compassion, faith, and hope for everyone, regardless of age or situation. This includes sensitivity for divorce, especially where children are involved. Today, there are many children living with one parent, or a step-parent; they are young victims of circumstances whenever there isn't a nurturing parent watching over them. This fits the description in the Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, definition of an orphan: "a child who is deprived by death of one or usually both parents; one deprived of some protection or advantage." Some people who've never experienced this brokenness cannot relate to or understand the pain from death or divorce; that's because they might not have experienced this trauma, or because they had one or both parents or a nurturing spouse always watching over them. Sadly, some children AND adults are just as deprived of these protections.

I often was unsettled when people were unaware of the emotional wounds in others' lives. I now realize that they are unable to be empathetic because they have not gone through these things themselves. But what are we, who know differently, supposed to do for others who are suffering? When are we to put empathy into practice by providing benefits and help to those who have not known the remarkable healing power of compassion that in reality breathes life into the givers as well as the recipients?

Those who have survived the devastating crisis of losing a parent or spouse, whether from death or divorce, seem to show more empathy and are naturally sensitive to those who are suffering around them. I believe this comes about because they've experienced this loss themselves. People who have never experienced the loss of any significant other are not as tuned into this particular hardship. Perhaps it is wise then to bring attention to the nurturing support they have compared to others who do not. We can also ask ourselves, "Is there anyone who is still beside me through the loss from a death, divorce, illness, or other crisis?" If we are able to remember instances of being emotionally and physically supported, we feel confident that we'll survive any further losses. Because no one is an island, to paraphrase William Blake, if we bring empathy to those who need our protection, the world will be a better place. By opening our eyes and hearts to those who are in front of us, we can be reminded that we've made it this far because of those sensitive individuals who helped us when we needed them. They somehow knew better than most, having also suffered, thereby drawing on a source of grace that they found when they, too, were alone.

About Catherine Nagle: Catherine grew up in Philadelphia with 16 brothers and sisters, reared by loving, old school Italian parents. Catherine's artist father's
works graced locations from churches to public buildings; her mother was a full-time homemaker. A professional hairdresser, Catherine worked in various salons while studying the Bible and pursuing spiritual growth through courses, seminars, lectures and inspirational books, including A Course in Miracles and the works of Marianne Williamson among many others. The mother of two children and a grandmother, Catherine lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and son. She is the Author of Imprinted Wisdom .