What’s an empath to do?

Can we still feel in an unfeeling world?

It’s been a minute or two since the last blog-MEA CULPA. Life happens and I’ve let this slide down the list of priorities. I’m still working on my Bumble-related adventures, rest assured! But here’s something a little different to whet your appetite in the meantime. The issues of trauma and violence emerge in different places in this blog, which may be triggering to some. #self-love.

This past week has been dominated by my thoughts and observations about how we care for one another. It began with reflecting on the behaviour of a colleague, who seems to be suffering. Her behaviour at a meeting unsettled me and after thinking a lot about it (would she be offended? would she appreciate it?) I finally emailed her to let her know that I’m here if she wants to talk. This woman and I are different, yet also kindred because of our shared experiences and our upfront ways of dealing with people. I’m definitely a Sagittarius with European leanings.  She hasn’t yet responded.

When connecting with my dear friend in Australia after months of missed calls and confusion about HOW many hours apart we really are, the issue of caring came up again. She too is an empath and said that we can step into a room and know ‘this isn’t right’—we feel the energy like divination rods. It’s true. She’s a poet and is busy publishing about menstrual imaginations, folk tales, and the importance of women’s bodies. Good friends, no matter how far apart (and most of mine are given the nomadic nature of my life and connective tentacles), help tether us and make meaning out of things, mostly ourselves. They are conduits of caring, too.

The third thing that resonates with me involves a cat I recently met who lives with a woman who is a friend of another close friend of mine. The minute I saw him I knew he was waiting to cross the rainbow bridge. It was so evident the moment I looked into his uneasy face and put my hands on him. His skinny body and flat, lifeless hair reminded me of the boy I recently lost- Shiva- my oldest companion who was 19. This cat is 14 and doing his best to keep it together, which is what cats so often do. They serve us in ways we barely understand; talk about how we care for one another! Setting him free, like all the beings who are ready and deserve to go, is an act of not only love but courage.

To answer the question at the top of the page- what’s an empath to do?- well, write. Isn’t that the answer?! For me it is, alongside other ways of knowing and caring for myself. Sharing our lives is another way that we can care for each other. No matter how unique the events we go through are, they often contain a kernel of something to someone else. Even if it’s just a space to reflect on how different we are or to wonder how we might have responded to the thing the writer speaks about. Those places created by the words are powerful mediums of connection and they welcome us into each other’s lives.

I thought to close with a non-fiction flash piece (which means it’s under 1,000 words) that I wrote a couple of years ago. It features the first friend mentioned and is a kind of bookend to this blog.  Side-note: when I began writing flash I adopted the 3rdperson voice and the name Nova without thinking, it just happened.

Sticks & Stones

They sit in the room that reminds Nova’s friend of her father, of the 1970s. Places like Sarajevo, escape, and “the war” begin to float and shape the space between them, becoming woven into their tapestry of violence. Separated by nine years and a continent, the women sit with each other’s misery. They nod and fold their pain into the collective story that unfolds. It is familiar. Like a pair of oracles, they take turns with each other- breathing and crying together, unspooling the dark stream of memory, bruises, shame, and silence that lay inside.

Nova and her friend are healing in solidarity. They liberate themselves from the painful events through words.

They’re not just telling stories though. They’re listening for particular echoes, things that the other one says to reassure them that it’s okay to remain silent.  It’s too much, too hard to explain these things to most people, who look with confused faces and ask: ‘Why didn’t you just leave?’ If it was “just” about leaving they would have.

What is it to leave? How do you get yourself there? Only someone who knows this violence has any sense of what a herculean task that is. Why?

Because violence congeals around the woman like a placenta, feeding her an ugly meal that never grows her. It only traps her in the dystopia. It’s a dark, original place Nova knows because of the earlier days when no one thought to ask the child how she felt about anything. She was left to tread, so that’s what she did relationship after relationship after relationship. The city and the look of the man changed, but she was always trapped with her head just above the water.

How can you explain that to people who don’t know? I’m not sure other people really want to know what it’s like to be repeatedly pulled into the undercurrent of blame, to be forced to swallow pain while wriggling in the dark with your hands tied. To know that in this Mariana Trench, there’s no air to breathe, just empty gulps of threat that eventually fill the lungs and bring you down like a stone.

The women walk under the big arching trees that allow fragments of the sun to escape, some of which travel in soft streams and others flutter between the leaves and lay like clues on the sidewalk. As they walk into these soft  spots, pieces of their bodies light up too. They are dappled women. The friend’s phone rings, and Nova listens and then pretends not to. She feels the wet on her legs as they pass front yard bushes that are still dewy in the late afternoon.

Nova imagines the words that might be passing between her friend and the person at the other end. Although it’s an Eastern tongue, she listens for anything recognizable, repeated, or a change in the tone. She hears her name and something that sounds like “collect.” Is that what she’s doing, helping her friend collect something, collect herself? The next morning Nova receives an email from the woman, who says thank you for holding her head above the water yesterday. Yes, that’s what she was doing, throwing her friend wisdom and love’s buoy to keep her afloat on the other side of the room.