This I Believe

Christine - Franklin Square, New York
Entered on August 25, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: death, family
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This I Believe….I believe in empathy.

My life has been guided by the lessons learned from what I now call “The Story of My Two Cousins.” From a very young age, I felt the impact of their journeys on my being. The lessons from their stories have guided me into becoming an educator, and believing in empathy. My quest to teach with this vital belief has been the foundation of my existence. It is this ability that can create a “butterfly effect” and touch the lives of others…so they can believe in themselves. When you put yourself in the shoes of another, you can help validate who they are. When this is done…a caterpillar can turn into that glorious butterfly. I dedicate this essay to all of the hundreds of unique students in my charge over the years.

It was on a cold crisp day in February that I discovered my 18 year old paternal cousin Frankie was dying. At the tender age of 14, I felt extreme pain from the loss and was overwhelmed with the emotions and questions. Such a beautiful and giving soul…What could have happened! I have never met a kinder child. Frankie came from a world in which he was loved, but not really seen or felt. There was too much dysfunction, adult human beings struggling, and not really “feeling” the existence of this beautiful boy. He got involved with heroin, and soon died from hepatitis. His death left a tragic void, but also shown a light on my future path.

Now there is the uplifting story of my maternal cousin John. He is considered one of the most talented thespians of his era. Often described as a member of a great acting family, he has inspired many of us in his gene pool. I paid attention to John’s life, got to see him perform as he started down his chosen path. And even more profound for me, witnessed his mother’s love for him. She had enormous empathy for her son. Even with her own trials and tribulations, Kitty was guided by her empathetic heart. She nurtured John, and seemed to feel all that he felt. She was his angel. It was imperative to her that he followed his bliss.

When I go into my classroom each September, I am so privileged to get to touch the lives of my children. My “munchkins” as I have been known to call my students affectionately. I am told I have a “gift” as a teacher. My students and their parents tell me this. Where does it come from? It is my belief in empathy. Valuing uniqueness, and figuring out what each and every individual child needs to continue the metamorphosis…this has been my quest. I watch as beautiful butterflies flutter around my classroom. Life can be so exquisite when we look into each others eyes and really see…and truly feel…I believe in empathy.