“We do not feel sorry for them,” my mother said sternly. “We understood how they feel.”
Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner: “What Unites Us”
Dan Rather is recalling his childhood in Texas during the depression. He notes that while his father and uncle had work, they were very poor. However, the family across the street lived in a one bedroom shack with five children. The neighbors lived on a dirt floor shelter with three tin walls and a tin roof. Each Christmas, Mr. Rather’s dad and uncle would find the means to buy gifts for the children. They would sneak the gifts to the neighbors after the children were asleep to protect the children's belief in Santa. Mr. Rather asked his mom why they did this for these people, though he answered his own question by saying, “I know why, it’s because you feel sorry for them.” Note, again, his mother’s response.
“We know how they feel.”
Mr. Rather was a pre-teen. He explains his mother’s response as his first glimpse of the emotion of empathy.
His story deeply moved me.
I believe that empathy is the spiritual gift that is at the core of our healing process in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. I believe empathy is the core gift of any healing. Two or more gather to share stories. Our stories connect us to the heart of our needs. Our stories interact deeply with the shared trauma of shame, guilt, sadness, fear and need. They also offer the gifts of healing and hope.
A life of trauma is a life of loneliness and fear. We know the trauma that we numb with our addictions. We know the fear that cripples our ability to reach out for help. We know the shame of that first cry for help.
We also cherish that first sense of relief when our cry for help is met with acceptance. I can easily relive that sense of relief when the first face of my sobriety offered no judgement. Let’s rest for a moment in the relief that our stories were not scorned. Rather, we experienced a face of empathy. There was a face of pained grace that understood how we were feeling.
Rest there for a moment.
Whose face do you see? Who wears the grace of empathy, acceptance, forgiveness, and hope?
Introduce yourself to that person again.
Listen to their story.
Relive the connection that told you that you were not alone.
Think of the other faces who have continued to support your journey of grace, forgiveness, and love.
These are the faces of the foundation of our sobriety, our healing, and our hope.
Stillness offers us the ease to be in the moment and rest in our sobriety, healing and hope.
I now rest in gratitude.
We are the body of our Higher Power. We are the skin of empathy. We are the voice of hope. We are the eyes of acceptance. We are the hands of forgiveness.