I have been having this feeling in my heart lately… almost a warming where I had been chilled into complacency or apathy for too long. I’m trying to identify if it’s empathy, in an expanded sense that I haven’t before experienced. As if I’m finally mature enough to have earned it. Or mature enough to have nurtured it. It’s not an entirely comfortable feeling. It’s an ache, but a loving ache. It’s different than sadness or anger at a tragedy. It’s different from compassion. It feels divine, like it’s coming from another place, a most true and real place.
The only clues I have as to what it is are in the moments in which it appears. They are moments of heartbreak, but not mine: only heartbreak in the lives of others.
I think it started in moments of heartbreak for those close to me, but quickly began showing up while reading fundraising requests on Facebook, until it greatly piqued my interest when it fluttered through while I watched the news. I have always felt so distant from those scenes, or so bombarded by their frequency that I failed to see them any longer.
Perhaps I have been exposed to this sensation before, and quickly stifled it because I was not yet comfortable with the vulnerability required to feel the longing helplessness by which I identify the onset of this feeling.
Even now, the feeling is fleeting. Encouraging it to stay is a most delicate effort; I must be unafraid of the feeling's power. Although it seems light at the onset, I can sense that the feeling has deep roots, capable of turning my life in all new directions.
It’s somewhat strange, 31 years into life, to be experiencing what feels like a brand new emotion. I’m unfamiliar with how to sustain it, how to interpret it, what to do with it.
So for now I simply feel it. I like it, even with its tinge of discomfort. It makes me feel connected; human.
I can see why I shut it out. It isn’t pleasant to have to care about the news. If I care about that car accident, then what is going to hold me together when an entire busload of children are injured?
If I break the seal on my heart for the man shot in an everyday burglary, how will the contents of my soul spill over when 49 people are murdered in one night?
If I allow myself to shudder at the thought of the panhandling woman at the gas station going hungry that night, how will I ever be able to sleep with the awareness of the millions of starving children across the world?
It’s uncomfortable, all that caring. But somehow, without knowing what has changed, I have begun to creep past the discomfort into the gentle expansion of my soul that increasingly accompanies my awareness of these heartbreaks.
This feeling has given me a glimpse as to how there can be people in the world who give their whole lives to help others. Literally, give it all away: time, talents, resources. Who feel as deeply for the life of a stranger as they do their own brother or lover.
I guess I always thought this was a “type” of person, someone other than me, a “better” person, gifted in empathy and compassion and rescue.
I’m beginning to see how “that person” could eventually be found in me. But I’m also seeing how much heartbreak and feeling and pain it will require. It feels daunting to take that all in, to ask myself in every situation,
“Can you imagine?”
The infrequency with which I ask myself this is enough to expose just how afraid I am of the answer. Because each time I ask it of myself, regarding any person in any heartbreaking situation, I am brought down, through my imagination, to depths I have never personally had to endure.
Thank God, thank God, that my Savior has paid for it all, lest we all become paralyzed from the collective heartbreak of the world. Allowing me to be able to empathize, to feel on another's behalf, and know that somehow, somewhere, peace, mercy, and justice will prevail.
As I write here, the obviousness of this whole thing strikes me and I’m embarrassed that it took me this long to realize. The feeling I’m having when I see another suffer, and I choose not to look away but rather to imagine their heartbreak… to mourn with them and rest in their pain...
"But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him." -Moroni 7:47