A couple months after Jackson was born my parents came over to watch him so Robby and I could go on our first post-baby date: dinner and a movie. We saw Gravity, you know, the one where we are asked to believe George Clooney is a wise-cracking astronaut and Sandra Bullock is somehow chosen for a space mission despite her motion sickness and anxiety? After leaving the theater in tears, that film will forever be the one about the lady whose four year old slipped on a playground and died. This movie, that was nominated for 10 Oscars and won 7, was reduced to one line about Sandra’s character losing her daughter. We went across the street and I cried in my pho noodles, and then we raced home so I could hold my baby.
I don’t know if after having a baby you are left with a bucket of hormones that just hang around forever or if something in your brain is permanently broken, but I seem to feel, so acutely, the pain of mothers around the world. There is something primal and potent about the ache parents feel when something, even trivial, happens to their baby. The first time he skins his knee and you would do anything to kiss away the sting. When a bigger kid takes his toy or gives him a shove on the playground and he looks at you with confusion and hurt in his eyes. After his grandparents leave, and you try to explain that they wanted to stay longer and they love him so much, but they had to return to their house a 10 hour drive from him.
Watching the news is especially hard, because the news is never good. A child is missing, a predator is on the loose, a teenager in a car accident, a shooting on a street, in a nightclub, at a school. The footage of the boy who drowned in the Mediterranean. The Syrian boy dusted with debris from a bombing. It’s hard for me to even write these words thinking of the pain parents feel, or the fear and loneliness of the boy whose family was killed by falling bombs. It’s important as citizens of the world to witness these atrocities, but I can’t linger on the story and I turn my eyes away from the photos. There is no child that couldn’t be my child, no weeping parent that couldn’t be me. I don’t dwell on the horrors of everyday news, but I bear witness to such a degree that it haunts my dreams. I selfishly put my family in the shoes of the grieving and decide I cannot stand to hear any more.
There are times when the world is too much in a way that it wasn’t before I had children. I hope it gives me more empathy rather than putting up a wall between my heart and those who suffer. I can’t protect myself from pain and love earnestly at the same time, and I can’t hide from the world and wrap every surface in cushy Nerf. For now I will ensconce my children in the overwhelming and often oppressive love that only a parent can give and pray for those who can’t do the same.
Always this question: Can one (you) have too much empathy? Love ❤️ you!!