I owe this to an elementary schoolmate from grade 1. She was extremely quiet. For me, another shy and awkward kid, I internally recognized how she didn’t quite fit in. A family friend told me years later her backstory. It wasn’t until decades after high school that I realized this lost/moved away sorta-friend had spent a year with me during high school. Our paths never crossed, at least I don’t remember her from high school. I don’t know if she ever saw me or recognized me.
I owe her an apology. Something happened one day in grade 1 that I know had to have embarrassed her, no, I’m not sharing it here. I didn’t laugh, but I didn’t offer anything to stop the smirks and looks. Sure, I was only…let’s see, kindergarten was 4 turning 5, so grade 1 I was 5 turning 6…I was the grand old age of 6, like everyone else.
But…I knew the feeling. I feared the feeling. The centering out of the incident to bring on the feeling. Somewhere in my 6-year-old being…I knew and understood. And, still I did nothing.
I remember hoping, maybe even praying, no one looked at me. Why? General fear that they would think I would be next. That I was the same because I was friendly with her. Sitting close by her. Stupid fear thoughts. Embarrassed thoughts then and more now.
I’m sorry I wasn’t able to do more for you that day. I’m sorry because I’m afraid I might have distanced myself from you after that…I don’t remember. I vaguely remember you not being a school for a bit after that.
Why is this so stuck in my mind? All these decades…5 decades, 50 years…and I still can picture it so clearly.
I can feel it as if it was me and not you. And, I know it wasn’t me because the family friend also remembered that day, so my memory isn’t fooling me.
So, why is it stuck in my memory and why the need to say, Thank You, for a moment in time that I imagine was absolutely horrible for you?
I believe that was my first experience of empathy. I didn’t have a name for it, but I know over the years I have taken on the emotions of others as if they were my own. Owning and carrying what wasn’t mine. Being affected by it.
Accepting and being comfortable with the idea that I am empathic to this degree is a challenge and feels a bit out-there. Aren’t we all empathic?
I don’t want to change this part of me. I don’t want to lose this part of me. Knowing this about me, I can understand myself better and start to separate my true feelings and reality from that which belongs elsewhere. Maybe this is why…and now this sounds ego…but, I’m remembering so many conversations over my lifetime with people during their crises and then being told how much I helped. Of course, I didn’t know what I had done or how I could have possibly have helped. I was too worried that what they were feeling or experiencing was actually happening in my life and I was unaware of it.
Empathy can be very confusing when you don’t understand the depth it reaches you.
Thank you my long ago schoolmate. You opened up something in me that has taken me this long to name. Something, I’m becoming thankful for having.
I hope you are doing well. Maybe one day our paths will cross.