A Total Failure of Empathy

Yesterday afternoon, I came home from felling a big sappy spruce and liming a fir and felt absolutely awful. After washing up I crawled into bed and zonked for most of the afternoon. I woke up with a headache and some sinus pressure and of course, the first thing I thought was “I’ve got it.”

The surge of anxiety alone made me feel ten times worse. I wanted to contact anyone I’ve been near in the last couple of weeks, but I didn’t have the energy to contact a single one of them. I felt miserable.

My truck coated in pollen. Different day, similar experience.

My truck coated in pollen and wood dust. Different day, similar experience.

Only later did it occur to me that during the morning I’d gotten a huge dose of pollen without a Claritin. “Ah, that’s why there’s no fever,” a wave of relief. I took an allergy pill. About a half an hour later I started to improve. By midnight I felt much better with only the lingering symptoms of a snot full of pollen to mark the experience.

Nerds, this is what it feels like when you realize the zombie you passed in that supermarket raid bit you. Most of us enter each day believing that we’ll be one of the lucky survivors hold up in the prison, safe behind barbwire and chain-link. Those monsters can’t reach us and they never will because otherwise how could we feel hope for ourselves or our future?

That’s an utter and complete failure of empathy. Today, the news is filled with people suggesting that we return to work. They do this because they imagine themselves “lucky survivors” in an age of contagion. They’re unable to imagine themselves getting the virus and can’t be bothered to envision how it is affecting those around them.

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I realize that there’s nothing I can do to encourage or grow another person’s ability to see things from my point of view — to understand my experience as if it were their own experience. So many of us, especially if we’re Americans, are only practiced living within our own privilege, but, if there’s one thing I hope people learn from this virus it is how to see other people’s love, loss and pain.

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