“You told me that you would always be there for me. And you’re the only person who I’ve ever felt meant those words.”
Recently, the first boy to break my heart slipped back into my life. After a three year absence, he showed up with the sincerest apology I’ve ever heard. And a request.
“Please, Erin, I just need someone to talk to. Someone who will listen. Someone who cares.”
It’s an odd feeling: to care deeply for someone, cope with the anguishing heaviness of heartbreak, trudge through endless emotional sludge, and eventually let go of the past; to forgive, forget and then–years later–look through the peephole and open the door with a compassion generally reserved for family or a best friend. It’s odd to realize that you’ve released attachment to something that once gripped and strangled. It’s empowering to see the many ways in which you have grown.
“My ex-girlfriend crushed me. I love her, and she broke my heart.”
It hurts to love wide open. To be vulnerable. To trust another. But–if you want to find love–there is no other way.
“It’s been four days, Erin. I can’t get over her.”
And it’s interesting how easily words come when necessary. How strong the desire to help. How capable each of us is of doing so.
“She plays mind games. She messes with my head. I don’t even know what to think anymore.”
And silence works, too. Presence. Empathy. Sincerity. Love.
“It. Just. Hurts.”
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
-Mary Oliver, In Blackwater Woods
And, sometimes, there is nothing more to be done.
We can listen patiently as sleeves become soggy. We can offer cliched but heartfelt advice. We can sit silently at the side of a friend and help ease their tremendous burden. It never feels like enough. Yet, this is often the most meaningful thing in the world. When suffering, empathy is the remedy that allays the pain of those blunt knives lodged deep in your chest.
But, with age and experience, I am realizing that sometimes–most of the time, actually–I cannot patch up someone else’s cracked heart or fish them out of their deep well of despair. I just can’t.
And, really, it’s not my responsibility to be the knight in shining armor. I have no business saving dashing damsels–macho men with their soft faces buried in sweaty palms. I don’t know why I feel obligated to be everyone’s savior.
“Thank you, Erin, for listening. It means a lot.”
I am a forever friend, the eternally loyal dog who would cross oceans to reconnect with the family he calls home. When I say “I will always be here for you,” it is not a trite or polite statement. It is a unshakable promise.
I would do anything, for anyone. Especially those who I have loved, and those who have loved me in return. I have said that for years and I have meant it all along, but I have now proved it to myself.
And I am not sure how I feel about that.
Is it admirable to so selflessly and readily offer my compassion to all of humanity? It is wise to trust those who once hurt me? Is it healthy to wander this world with a basket on my shoulder, labeled: Place burdens here, when I can barely manage my own?
Perhaps this my tragic flaw. My deadly weakness. The Rube Goldberg machine that exhausts my energy simply to help someone else stay afloat. When I can’t be sure the other person would do the same for me.
But, I don’t think empathy will be my downfall. Not exactly.
“You have always been someone I could talk to, about everything.”
There is something refreshing about the tragedy of sharing someone else’s burden. Something about it makes me feel more alive. And reminds me of my role in the cyclic nature of life and the limitless connections among humanity.
The overwhelming emotions that bring heavy tensions to that one particular space in your chest reflect my own, and to ignore another’s pain is to deny one’s deeply-personal-yet-not emotional experience. To reject one’s humanity.
And I don’t think that is how we were meant to live.