subject line: the art of empathy


Tampa, Florida

The first time I realized that a friend of mine was depressed, I crawled outside on my roof where nobody could see me where I could feel my back cold against the tiling and watched the stars until I was shivering and lonely and let myself feel the heaviness of another person’s weight.

I consider myself an empathetic person. By “empathetic”, I mean understanding. I mean willing to put myself in another’s shoes, to understand his or her perspective. I define it as one of my most redemptive qualities i.e. one I consistently aim to emulate in my day-to-day life. I cannot always agree, but I can understand. I can slot the pieces together and try to get a better picture.

It got to me more than it should have, that first time. I wrote letters – lots of them. I thought of a scenario and wrote a letter for it, hand-scrawled, too short, too messy, and tried to ignore the sinking feeling in my chest. At the end of the week, I threw all the letters into a manila envelope and baked some pumpkin bread, hoping that my hands would be busier than my head. And I drove it to his house and left it all on his bed and told myself that however empty I was feeling, he was feeling worse.

Because it was his struggle, not mine, and any attempt by me to somehow encapsulate that problem into something that I could claim – an emotional appeal for me – was in no way helpful. I never mean to turn someone else’s suffering into a reflection on myself, but it always happens. It is never about me. The pumpkin bread and the letters worked, that time. He was okay, for a little while. We’ve fallen out of touch so I no longer know, but I hope that he’s okay now. It still gives me a pang to think about it and how we used to talk.