Something happened. I don’t know when. We stopped caring for one another. We lost the ability to empathize with one another. We lost the ability to care for one another. We lost the will to compromise. We are failing ourselves in increasingly rapid proportions. We all suffer when one of us suffers. We, the People, have become victims of our own lack of empathy. The ability to reason and feel for one another, separates humans from other species. I tend to believe it’s our inability to reason and our lack of empathy is what is dooming us.
I cannot attest to an accurate account of my world before the 1980’s. The gas crisis doesn’t come to memory; however, I remember the vitriol toward Iran during the hostage crisis. This was my first experience toward hatred of Muslims and the Middle East. The term Muslim portrayed villainous extremism in news and movies. This intensified in the early 90’s. I then became an adult, got married and had a child. On September 11, 2001, our country was attacked by a network of people, led by the son of a multi-billionaire. This was the first attack by another country on US soil since Pearl Harbor (Hawaii wasn’t an official state but it was the home of a US Naval Base).
It’s accurate to say I felt safe here prior to 9/11. Although I was battling my addictions, I felt safe living here. I felt, we the People, cared for one another. Then. The bombs, literally and figuratively, dropped. I watched the television for weeks as our military attacked Kabul, Baghdad, and other cities. I cheered as we leveled the homes of innocent people, in hopes of catching few. I joined in with anti-Islamic sentiment. All fears intensified within me. There had to be someone to blame. The Muslim religion, one of peace, became my enemy. I was indoctrinated into “Patriotic” behavior. Eventually, I changed. Eventually, I started to see the terror within.
A valuable lesson was learned. If we blame others for our collective problems, we don’t need to look within. It’s. So. Easy. Forget that cultivating fear is profitable. Forget that we allow drug companies and doctors to profit from personal devastation. Forget that we shoot up schools at alarming rates. Since 9/11, 724 people have died in the US to mass shootings. We have injured nearly 2000 people in these attacks. Buy an overwhelming number, most of these are happening in school. SCHOOL! Why are we unable to see a problem? Why can’t we look within and see that we are killing our own people. We, the People, are our own worst enemy.
In 2004, I got sober. I learned two of the most important lessons; Look at my own actions and offer grace. Basically, learn empathy. I started to see the world differently. I started to PRACTICE EMPATHY. This isn’t easy. I became a professional empathist (not a word). My life was getting better. My torn relationships were mending. Things became easy. Naomi and I had two great kids. We were on a path to financial freedom. I saw the forgiveness granted me, and I paid that forward.
It changed. The country started to heal, as well. We endured a few crises and persevered. Then, the circus came to town. I am not going to engage in political debate. I will say that any chances of uniting, we the People, ended with 45. We, again, became the victim of the son of a billionaire. This time, it happened at home. We have turned to talking and writing marionettes. I have become a victim. The only difference between me and others is my son got cancer.
Jacob’s sickness granted our family exemption from this hate. As we watched Covid-19 attack, we were in another fight. Jacob practiced love. Jacob practiced empathy. He changed the way I thought. Jacob didn’t blame others. He insisted I do what I preached when I got sober. Learn grace and look within. John 8:7 states, “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.” I needed a young man, fighting for his life, to TEACH me this lesson. I needed to re-learn the practice of empathy.
Since Jacob got sick, the communities in which we live, have granted us grace. They have given us the gift of empathy. Naomi and I have found another world. We now live in a world with other grieving parents. I wish this was a small group. It’s not. Last night, I was chatting with a friend who suffered tremendous loss. She asked me an important question: “Do you feel people give you empathy?” It’s such an interesting thought. Yes. Jacob died from cancer. This falls into our country’s ideal empathetic death criteria. Sad.
I’ve seen the best and worst of myself and our community. I’ve seen people die from cancer (all types), over-dose, freak accidents, Anorexia, Covid-19, drunk driving, other diseases, other miscellaneous ways, and old age. It’s amazing how we can agree that cancer is, somewhat, avoidable, and blame-free. We lost a great man, last week, to Parkinson’s. He died, surrounded by the love of his family. Others, died alone, due to overdose. My friends lost two kids. On June 14, 2020, six months before Jacob died, two girls went to spend some time on a hammock. This wasn’t a hammock suspended 3,000 feet above the forest wall, attached to a cliff in Yosemite. In a complete freak accident, the lives of two girls were gone. A family devastated.
Other friends lost children to overdoses. I know another family dealing with grief due to a DUI that killed an innocent bystander, too. While dying is inevitable, it seems some deaths carry a Cartier price tag while others empathy couldn’t be sold in a Dollar Store. I’ve written before of my struggle with the following: Unvaccinated people are dying from Covid-19 in epic proportion. When I see someone die from Covid-19, I ask myself the same question: Did <insert name> get vaccinated? Does it matter? No. Why do I condition my feelings based on a narrative I didn’t write? My parents taught me right from wrong.
We, the People, need to find a way to practice empathy. Why do we need to be right? Why do we need to play this game in reverse? Empathy cannot live if it’s swallowed in a vacuum of judgement. I can promise one thing; we carry the deaths of our loved ones the same. There isn’t a day when a brother, sister, parent, aunt, uncle, cousin, grandmother, grandfather, and other family member gets a reprieve from grief. Not. One. Day. We are bereaved forever. There is no timetable on love.
I don’t know if we, the People, can recover. I hope we can. I truly hope we can be better. I will heed my own advice. I choose to hug, not blame. I choose to empathize not criticize. I choose to PRACTICE empathy. I challenge my readers to reach out to the grieving. Not with judgement but with love. Lend an ear. Share a shoulder. We need it. We ALL need it.