Wait it’s just about to break
It’s more than I can take
Everything’s about to change
I feel it in my veins
It’s not going away
Everything’s about to change
“War of Change”…Thousand Foot Crutch
Standing in line at the grocery store with his mother, a boy was bored and wondering why he had to come along instead of being out having fun on a nice day. At eleven, he would rather have spent his Saturday afternoon anywhere beside the grocery store. While his limited group of friends was out riding their bikes and laughing, he was pushing a cart around the store following his mother. Impatience to get the errands finished darkened his mood because all he wanted to do was to go out to play.
In line right behind the mother and son, was a group of teenage girls with their collection of soda bottles and potato chips. Though the boy wasn’t at the “noticing girls” age, he envied their laughter and good spirits. Wishing he could be having fun was one more reason to add to his sour mood as he sighed and moved the cart to the end of the checkout lane. His mother was smiling and chatting with the checkout lady and as always, sharing details he was sure were not important enough to keep him away from his afternoon plans. Then all envy of the laughing girls evaporated as the ringleader in the group chose that moment to expand her commentary loudly enough for people in the adjoining checkout lanes to hear.
“Well, we might get there in time if this old lady would shut her blabbing mouth and hurry her fat ass up. Does she think we want to stand here all day and listen to her go on and on? Come on already!”
Moments passed before anyone moved. The only sound was the laughter from the other girls in the group who mumbled their agreement. The boy watched as his mother’s face changed from shades of pink to red. Her eyes, smiling a moment before, glistened with tears. The checkout woman, embarrassed by the actions of the girls, quietly handed his mother the receipt and glared at the group of obnoxious girls in line. Turning towards the boy, the mother pushed the cart towards the door and out into the sunny afternoon that now seemed a little gloomier than just a few moments before.
Silence fell on the two as they drove home. The boy watched as his mother fought with her emotions. She was none of the things the girls had called her. She was young compared to the other parents he knew. She had an infectious smile that warmed others and was always there for other people ready to listen and leave them lighter in spirits. She was strong of heart and of spirit. Why would those girls say such mean things to her?
Though his mother tried to hide them, her emotions were nearly palpable to the boy. The boy felt his mother’s emotions. He could feel the anger, the hurt, and the shame. The boy felt as if he was experiencing the words directly. He wanted to scream at those girls, cry, and lash out. His emotions were churning within him screaming for an outlet. However, like his mother, the boy sat silently. He knew exactly how his mother felt because he felt the same way every time others threw insults at him. He felt…empathy.
Empathy is defined as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.
Being empathic might have started before that moment, but from that day on, the boy thought about his words and actions towards others. He paid more attention to the people around him. He began watching for telltale signs of how people reacted to each other, observing emotions that raced across their faces, and the subtle changes in body language. He saw the pain on the faces of the slighted. Many times, he would go to these injured souls and try to say something to offset the offence. Most times as he offered solace, he was met with coldness and anger. The world became a darker place for him with his knowledge of the pain others suffered from the actions of others.
The boy grew into an adult, picking up lessons along the way. He became a student of people. He learned lessons about how different people react to insults and varied reactions. Some people lashed out with venomous comments, while others shut down emotionally. He paid attention to what a pleasant word or a gesture would do to change a person’s mood. He also learned that he too, was guilty at times directly or indirectly, for causing others pain. His knowledge of causing others pain was a hard lesson for him to swallow when he remembered that day leaving the store with his mother. No matter what steps were taken to make amends, once the pain was inflicted no kind words could erase the damage.
Thinking back on the ride home that day, he tried to remember if he had said a word to his mother. The memory was cloudy with age, but with a little effort he began to see it again. As they traveled the miles home, his mother drove in silence. Pulling into the driveway, she shut off the engine and reached for the door. Not knowing what to do to make things better, he reached for her arm gently. She turned to look down at his hand and then searched his face in the shadow of the car. At that moment, he understood what to say.
His words rushed out. “Mom, I just wanted you to know that I think you are beautiful. You mean the world to me. I love you.”
Smiling, she patted him on his hand. “Thank you,” she said as she quickly turned away. In the light as he stepped out of the car, he thought he saw a tear glisten her cheek.
Do you have a moment in your life that brought about a change of your perspective? Do you think the other girls in line understood or cared about the pain they caused? With all the media attention on bullying, do you think this happens more now than it did decades ago? Does this behavior end with childhood or is it prevalent through all age groups?
Until next time…