Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Where's the heart?

The man is sick and that means moans and sighs from the vicinity of the couch and deep, crackling breaths followed by hack-hack-hack-up-a-lung coughs, always in sets of three ending in a crescendo. And of course, sleeping in separate rooms 'cause NyQuil makes him snore like an imitation of Hooty and the Blow Fish.

And I'm just not very good at babying him. I can baby my girls pretty darn well when they're sick or sad. But with the man I just want to roll my eyes and tell him to call me when it's over. I have no idea why that is. I guess I should try to fake it, but I've never been much of a faker. What you see is what you get with me.

I seriously think I'm missing the compassion gene. I've seen a lot of sad stuff in my life. Other people come back from a trip to Africa and they're shocked and saddened and don't eat for weeks in solidarity with those who have so little. I come back from a month of trodding through the worst slum in Kenya, throw my filthy shoes in the trash and go on with life. Today I interacted with a teenage girl who has been through unspeakably hard stuff as a leukemia patient. She came to us with a set of the worst orthodontic braces I have ever seen, evidently put on by an unlicensed dentist doing business in his home. It happens and she was certainly a victim this time. The teeth beneath were rotting in her mouth. Thanks to the compassion of a dentist who put her life on hold for a couple of hours, the girl walked away in much better condition. Today I saw grown men crying because of a tooth ache. But I don't cry or feel sad. What I do is make sure there's a well run program to help folks like these. But I'm not awash in emotion. OK, awash - I'm not even really damp with emotion. Why!!!

Part of it may be that I'm very self protective. I just am. It takes a lot to get past the wall. The other thing is that "acts of service" is my love language. So I guess doing stuff is my way of saying I care. Well, it sounded good. Maybe I'm just freakishly lacking in the compassion area.

OK, well if you're still with me after that self-absorbed discussion, then I'm sorry. See-there's a little compassion.


Stephen said...

I think it's just empathy (an intellectual comprehension of another's situation) vs. sympathy (actually sharing and potentially being dragged down by others' emotions). Your empathy is a healthier, more mature response to the pain and suffering of others and allows you to remain functional enough to actually do something about the source of the suffering.
Or maybe that's just what I tell myself because I'm an unfeeling sociopath like you.
Oh, did I hurt your feelings? I'm so sorry! Just kidding! (about being sorry, not about hurting your feelings) :o)

Shari said...

Recognizing the pain and suffering as legitimate and then doing something about it, without feeling like you need to adopt their pain as yours seems pretty healthy to me. That's different than being too caught up in yourself or uncaring to listen OR act. I regularly hear all kinds of amazingly sad stories. One last week definitely kept me awake nights. It takes some hard work for me sometimes to accept prayer and a listening ear as my contribution and to refuse to participate in the devastation myself. Maybe some of the other folks you described are facing real poverty and pain for the first time, in a naive sort of "I didn't know this existed" way. You definitely know what's out there.

Cari said...

See, this is why I love you guys. I've been thinking about this a lot lately and you help by adding a little perspective. I do want to try to be a little more in the moment though - pausing to look people in the eye and let them know I at least recognize they're in pain.

Anonymous said...

Didily Dang again! Seriously, I could have written that post. The sick husband part ("for crying out loud, stop sneezing!"), the zero compassion part, and the acts of service part! I'm heavily considering the "self protective" part, never thought of it that way before...

B/t all that and the birthday forgetfulness, I'd swear we were the same Cari!