Just like some of you, I listened and watched as the stories in Boston appeared on the news. I saw image after image of injured people and heroics. I heard rampant speculation about who had done it and why would they want to cause this hurt. There were many, many people hurt, and it seemed like there was nothing I could do about it. I felt pretty helpless. I remember that after 9/11 I waited on line for hours to donate blood, just to find out that there was nobody to receive it. That kind of helpless feeling came up, and I wanted to do something.
The next day I was part of a group chat, and we were all listening to a friend who lived in Boston. I realized that there was something I could do, I could be a friend and open myself to her. I asked her if I could make a 'date' to call her later, and hear about what's going on in her town.* I was really kind of scared to do this, as I'm not normally a person who reaches out. Especially when it's a person I don't know all that well, since it feels kind of invasive. I was also concerned about writing about it for this blog, as I don't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable talking to me in general. I don't want folks to be scared I'll turn every conversation into a blog post.
That night, I listened to her tell me about the impact the explosion was having on her life. We tossed around ideas, and I could hear the pain in her voice. We compared this to the other events that happened in our lives and how old our children would have to be before it would be easy to share these things with them. (Never, I think now. I don't think it ever gets easy.)
I also listened to her talk about how close she was to the event. Her job, her friends, all of them were impacted by this.
When she told me about her town and how strange it was to see and hear the changes, it made me feel like I was right there with her. I could see the sirens and the yellow caution tape in my mind as we spoke. We talked about what did happen, and what could happen to any of us.
I hope that by me reaching out to her, she knew that someone was listening and at the very least bearing witness to what she was going through. I know that for me it made me feel like I was helping, even just a little bit.
This empathy practice has given me the courage to step into other people's lives. I don't know what I would have done if this happened a year ago, but I do know that being there for my friend felt like I was learning about how connecting with people can be good for me as well as for other people. It's hard to start but once you do it's a win-win.
Were you affected by a recent tragedy, either a public one or a private one? Did you find someone to listen to you, if so, did it help?
*Full disclosure; I actually said, 'I'd like to interview you for my blog' which gave me an excuse to call her. I didn't end up doing a formal interview, but I really needed a way to push myself into making the actual phone call. I'm not usually the type to call someone out of the blue.
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