Boys, Empathy, Pain

Last night, the night before my Gamma Knife procedure, Paul came into our room in the middle of the night, on the brink of tears, because he was having a sad moment he couldn’t push away.  He felt secure about my health and my treatment, cognitively, at least.  He felt safe and happy, or so his mind told him.  But the simple end of a series of stories he was enjoying, the loss of his favorite characters, reduced him to sobs.


We’re in Middle School now.  We’re entering the age of emotional separation and independence.  So it’s been quite  a while since Paul has sought out emotional solace with me.

It makes me so proud that he does so.   A son who chooses to come share, to talk through his worries about life, justice,the universe, purpose, is a son born with a good heart and good adult role models.  Adults around him who share their own joys and pains in vulnerable, honest ways, with smiles, laughter, tears and  occasionally apologies, when those negative emotions get squelched into a box that can only erupt as anger.

I see the beauty of my son’s emotional presence, strength and honesty in this picture of Alton Sterling’s 15-year old son crying at a news conference about his father’s murder at the hands of two White police officers.

Alton Sterlings Son

This was the first image I had of this family.    He emotes like my son.  Immediately I was in love with this boy, someone who has clearly been raised with the same open heart and emotional connection.  Clearly, an adult or multiple adults have been available to this boy to help him understand harsh and dangerous truths while keeping hope and love as the priority.  This boy has lost not only much of the sense of security or sense of justice he may have carried, he has lost the man who clearly showed him how to live with such injustices and still find joy, love.

Look at this man’s face.  This is a father who loves well.  He sees people completely and with empathy.  This is the smile of someone who loves to be alive and lives in gratitude for the love around him.  I know this face.  It’s the face of any individual who has gone through great suffering and learned to forgive and grow from it.  It’s the face of someone who has had to work so hard for what he has that he has no fear of loss.  He knows how to rebuild again.   He lives in gratitude amid the bitterness he must feel (but here I don’t know) at what our society has dealt him.    He gets by as best he can so that he can live with the joy this life brings him, his family.  And in particular, that beautiful son.


Facebook Friends Kim Pollock and Larry Boykin posted an article from the New York Times about how empathy can be learned.  Some of my favorite education scholars and researchers are cited in this piece.  It’s worth a read.   It’s really got me thinking

What strikes me is the discussion of how privilege and a lack of empathy are intertwined.  Before this shooting, I was going to write about fear.  There is, of course, also a lot of simple greed in privilege’s entanglement with empathy.

What went through those White police officers’ minds when they killed this beautiful father?  Why are they so afraid to see this human being fully and complexly?  As an individual with a huge warm smile, standing on a corner and, yes, who knows, maybe annoying people with appeals to purchase his product.  Why don’t they begin by speaking to this person as if he were as complex, well-intentioned, reasonable, loving and deserving of respect as they view themselves to be?

Huge questions with many true answers and insights..  I have some cancer answers.   I’ll talk about those.  We all need to be talking about this lack of empathy.

We all have some answers to why it’s hard to learn empathy.  We alll need to share.  And get a little bit real with ourselves.


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