Tuesday, May 24

Help me feel...anything at all

Help me feel....anything at all.

That phrase scratched into the bathroom stall door echoed agonizingly in my head.  I wondered about the young woman who wrote it.  Was she still at that high school?  Had she graduated?  Moved beyond the pain so clearly articulated in those spare six words?  Was she still in this small Midwestern town or had she sought relief beyond its borders?  In what ways had she sought that relief?  Those options as potentially terrifying as the cry for help.  More importantly, did any adult seek her out and try to offer any kind of meaningful assistance?  The key word there is "meaningful."

I was talking with a friend after we had visited a school doing some amazing project-based learning.  I said I wasn't sure I would have been successful in that kind of learning environment in high school.  I was introverted (not shy), preferring to keep to myself for many reasons.  For a time my anthem was Simon & Garfunkel's "I am a rock". The best line: "And a rock feels no pain/And an island never cries."

I played team sports, but was never chummy with my teammates.  I preferred to work alone, to depend on only myself.  I could control quality, direction, everything.  And it was safer to do it myself.

So when I read those words on the stall door, I felt my heart contract with a searing recollection of pain.  I was blessed.  Even as I guarded myself, people reached out to me, encouraged me in ways I was able to realize and acknowledge much later.

When Alan November speaks, one of the things he talks about is the importance of empathy as a global skillEmpathy.  He has a point.  It is easy to closet our emotions, to protect ourselves but insulating ourselves against the feelings of others.  But then it becomes far too easy to insulate ourselves against the perspectives and experiences of others so that we are soon cocooned by our only our perspectives, experiences, and feelings.  Aside from the selfishness, there is always danger in being immersed in only one perspective and only in one's owns emotions, experiences, and thoughts.

High school can be hard enough.  If we are to teach our children well, we do need them to learn to be empathetic.  Not just globally, but locally.  Perhaps even more so locally.  Perhaps we adults need to do a better job of modeling empathy.

Perhaps, then, at the very least, this young woman would feel less invisible.  And that in itself could be a very big deal.  And not just to her.

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