Understanding the Heart

Hillary - Bridgman, Michigan
Entered on February 19, 2008

I believe that none of hurts and tragedies are wasted. Every difficult time we go through has a purpose- to teach us how to help others through the same things, and to enable us to empathize, rather than sympathize, with them. I have seen evidence of this in both my life and the lives of others around me.

I’m seventeen years old, and I’ve experienced a lot. When I was ten years old, my mom died. She had struggled with cancer since I was three or four, but her prolonged battle was not enough time to prepare me for her death. In the few months before she died, my mom and dad were separated and got back together. Several years later, my dad remarried, and it wasn’t long before he and my stepmom had separated and divorced. This experience also brought me stepsiblings and many adjustments and readjustments. I come from a low-income family, and deal with fighting between family members constantly. I sometimes feel like there is nothing else that I could possibly experience. I don’t list these experiences to gain sympathy; in fact, that’s the last thing I want to do. These are simply the events that have shaped my personality and passions, and given me the belief that I hold today.

Looking back, I believe that losing my mom has had the greatest impact on me. Seven years past her death, I have gotten to the point where I don’t wake up and immediately think about her. I don’t even always think about her everyday. Rather, it is when something uncertain, or life changing, or tragic happens that I see the impact my loss has had on me. When I see others hurting because they have lost someone, I feel lost and powerless, remembering the days and weeks after she died. When I hear of others whose families are having problems, relationally or financially or otherwise, I feel scared and uncertain as I recall the hurricane that is called my family. I understand and relate to what they are going through. I empathize. Empathy is the “capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person.” Empathy is the launching point of what I believe; it takes someone who has experienced the hurt to help someone else with that hurt.

I have talked to counselors, teachers, mentors, and friends about the heartaches I have faced, but it is only when one of them can say, “I’ve been there” that I can really confide in them. I love my friends, and I try to tell them what I am experiencing and feeling in my life, but talking with them is different than talking to my aunt who thinks about my mom, her sister, every day. Since she lost her sister, my aunt can relate to my loss and encourage and comfort me. While talking to friends may garner sympathy, I don’t believe any of us desire sympathy from someone who isn’t hurting; we want empathy from someone who has been there, someone who can sit and listen to us, who can let us cry and cry with us. Unfortunately, in order to be helped or help someone who’s hurting, you or they have to be hurt first.

For me, the tragedies I have faced have made me a quiet, sympathetic, observant person. Having needed a shoulder to cry on and an attentive listener has shaped me to be those things in return. I believe it is the same for all of us. After facing losses, people often campaign to save others from similar losses or work to help them through them. I, for one, have a passion to comfort others who are hurting, and though I may not be very effective, I know I have the resources to be so. All it takes is an open ear and a similar story.

“All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us…”

2 Corinthians 1:3-4