Thursday, January 31, 2008

Empathy, Connection, and Loose Threads

I view the world as a tapestry - different colors and shapes and textures - interwoven and connected. Loose threads weaken and can destroy a tapestry.

This morning I attended the funeral of a man I didn't know . He was my daughter-in-law's uncle, his daughter is a sweet, smart young woman that I am very fond of - she was a bridesmaid at my son's wedding. His sister is a strong and kind woman - the kind of person who grasps your hands when she meets you and looks you in the eye. I first met her at a gathering of this very large, often exclusive family. She met my eyes and immediately came over to me. She exudes warmth and calm surrounds her.

I had some time to adjust to this man's passing - I had comforted my daughter-in-law, offered support and help as we all do at these times.

And so this morning I thought I was attending the funeral out of obligation and respect. Not bad motivators but incomplete - doing nothing for the soul.

As soon as I saw these two women - the dazed young daughter, looking small and pale - and her aunt, exhausted from all the arrangements but solid and dignified - I realized I was there out of love and what I felt at that moment was grief born from empathy.

Empathy is defined (in part) as "the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another". Without empathy it is impossible to connect to others and without connection the tapestry develops loose threads.

I experienced this morning how much this man was loved. He was a father, a brother, an uncle. He worked hard - long hours at a difficult job. Every Sunday morning he loaded the trunk of his car with small gifts for his family and made the drive north to Brooklyn to visit. To keep the tapestry tight. To connect with those he loved and who loved him.

This past Sunday he was violently murdered during a petty robbery gone horribly wrong. With the help of an anonymous tip his killers were captured on Tuesday. They had his jacket, his wallet and a few other articles. A life gone for less than $200 of material possesions. A thread pulled loose that can never be fully mended.

His killers are young - both under 25. One of them has a record of violent acts going back to his 14th year on this planet. What happened to these two men? How did they lose their connection to humanity? How loose is the thread that connects them to others that they could do what they did?

I don't think I believe in pure evil. I think every action has a story behind it. Sociopaths (an out of date term for anti-social personality disorder) usually exhibit their disease around 15. They are unable to connect. They have no empathy. They are often violent. Is it possible these two young men are mentally ill? Did they fall through the cracks of an overloaded and often uncaring system? It is easier for me to ask these questions. I did not lose a father, a brother, an uncle.

The people closest to him will need to find their way through all the stages of grief and I fear anger will be a hard one to overcome. There are newspaper stories to try not to read - full of horrible details. There are online news reports where anonymous people feel they have the right to post hurtful erroneous assumptions, where they entertain themselves in abstract discussions of real pain. Examples of their lack of empathy, of their losing their connection, of their being cowardly partcipants in pulling more threads loose.

I share this story not to make you sad or angry - each day the news is full of people shaking their heads and saying they don't know what the world is coming to, you don't need reminding. Instead I tell this story to assure you (and myself) that any small thing you do for one another is important. Every connection you make is critical. Every thread you strengthen keeps the tapestry intact.

The death of an ordinary person goes unnoticed by the world. Had this man had a heart attack or a car accident he wouldn't be news worthy. So I choose to make his passing note worthy in my small way. Not by how he died but by how he lived. A father, a brother, an uncle. He was a small but strong thread in a giant tapestry. And on the day of his funeral he connected us all in empathy.

In all of the news coverage of this tragedy there is but one sentence worth repeating ...

"He was loved" said his daughter .

Be Kind Out There


Jeni said...

Your words here have taken a terrible, horrifying event and left in it's place a beautiful, well-written tribute to a gentleman you didn't even know. Excellent piece, Diane.

magnetbabe said...

This saddens me. I feel so bad for his family, that they lost him in such a senseless act. And the kids who did it will likely bounce in and out of prison their whole lives.

Dianne said...

Thank you Jeni - that was what I was hoping to do.

magnetbabe - I think one of them is mentally ill and the other (or both) is a crack addict. Until we fix people instead of just locking them up and then throwing them out it won't get better. Don't be sad though - just keep being the wonderful strong thread that you are :)

bobbie said...

What a beautiful tribute you paid to this man. I'm sure the family will appreciate it, as should we all.

Hello, Diane. Thank you for visiting my blog. I can use all the friends i can get. I love some of the elements in your layout. Could I steal one or two? I like the way you think.

CG said...

i had tears in my eyes reading this. thank you for sharing your experience and your words.

Dianne said...

Hey Bobbie - feel free to steal whatever you like - stealing is a sincere form of flattery :)
and I love the friends I'm making on the "Interwebs" ;)

thank you cg - you always have such kind words for me and they are appreciated.

R.E.H. said...

Wow... that was an excellent post. It awoke many emotions as I read it - all ranging from hope to despair.

I have often wondered what goes on in the minds of people who commit violent crimes like that.

BTW. The first Picture Fiction Challenge has been posted today.

Dianne said...

thank you r.e.h - hang on to the hope part :)

I'll be over to pick up the challenge instructions - looking forward to it!

bobbie said...

I've just re-read your post. I think you have said it all with, "He was loved." The two young men who were responsible may not have been loved. Or may not have known they were loved. We may never understand why they became the people they are, but that may be a clue.

I have indeed copied two of your blog elements, since you were so generous. I may change one. I would feel more comfortable if it were my own picture behind it. Thank you.

Michael Manning said...

Dianne: I am so sorry for the loss you have described. Unfortunately, there is evil. I was in high school when girl in my Journalism class was reading "Helter Skelter" about the senseless murders of actress Sharon Tate and 5 others. Years later I tuned into a program already in progress and realized this was Sharon's sister Patty (now deceased)speaking about how she has carried on. When I was in L.A. last summer I left flowers and a teddy bear at Sharon's resting place. You are so right about empathy, or as Bob Dylan sang. "I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes/and just for that one moment I could be you". My condolences.

SnoopMurph said...

Being loved is an amazing way to leave this world and join the next.

My best friend's mother was murdered randomly many, many years ago when we were in high school. She was the greatest mother-I loved being at her house and she made you feel like one of the family. My friend has gone on to have a beautiful family and she is one strong and admirable woman in my eyes and I see her mom shining through at certain moments.

Thank you for posting and helping us remember to make those connections and making sure the people we love know just how much they are loved.

Dianne said...

thank you Michael for the condolences. And that Dylan song is perfect. I pulled out my Dylan CDs as soon as I read your comment. You do that to me a lot :)

welcome snoopmurph. so sorry for the loss of your friend's Mom, especially as a teen girl - that must have taken amazing strength to overcome. and it's wonderful that you see her Mom in her - keeps that connection alive.

thanks for stopping by - I enjoy your blog a lot - it makes me smile and remember being a young Mom.

Minnesotablue said...

Dianne: Once again you have managed to make others think about how fragile life is and the consequences of one act of violence. My heart goes out to you and to the victims family

Theresa said...

A couple months ago I recently went to a funeral of a person I had never met- a co-workers mother had died. Being on the outside of the event does make yo reflectful, which you expressed beautifully-

It is unfortunate that a certain group of people do not see the value of life and will take it for just a couple of dollars and that they don't think about how the person is loved and who depends on them.

Odat said...

As I sit here bawling my eyes out (its ok, tears water the soul), I can relate to the expressions of warmth and empathy by people we've never met before. I experienced that myself recently. You sound like a wonderful woman!

Akelamalu said...

This is truly sad. I will ask the question "What is the world coming to" because I really do not know. Just this week my eight year old grandson was demanded of his money with the threat "I have a penknife in my pocket" - the shocking part of this - by an eight year old boy in his class!

If my sons say "She was loved" when I die I will be a proud woman.

Dianne said...

again - thank you all for such lovely comments

minnesotablue: we were listening to Sting's song "Fragile" just last night but then it just became too much and we played Wii instead - I really suck at it by the way ;)

theresa: you're absolutely right about the perspective when you're "outside the event"

odat: this morn you made me laugh, now I make you cry. we're a mess aren't we!? "water for the soul" is a lovely term. my son used to ask me if I was good crying or bad crying :)

akelamalu: babies with penknives!! impossible to register that but it happens here too - the elementary school here - very small school with amazing parent involvement - and still they have troubles with violent children!
and I agree that "she was loved" is more than enough.

I have a great funny story to tell about my house and the rain - we must lighten it up here!
gotta get some work done and then I'll post something happy

thanks again - you're all great folks.

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