Empathy is not sympathy. It’s not agreement with a person’s situation or even saying “I know how you feel.” Empathy and the hope that we can serve one another and be present for each other are actions we need now more than ever in our countries, communities, and homes. It’s creating the safe space to ask, “What do you need?” And if that is silence, let it be silence. Don’t ask this question if you’re not prepared to walk 10 Thousand Steps in their shoes and allow them to share their needs, emotions, struggles, celebrations, and journey — this is empathy.
Before you begin to compare your situation to others or “rate” it against others, or even enter into a “competition” of who is “worse off” in this season, maybe broaden your perspective to understand that there are layers of effects in this transition time to each of our lives. We are all in transition. Be kind. Be gentle. Be hope-full. And may I expose some “privilege” in how you’re griping about toilet paper. And that the beaches are closed.
Walk ten thousand steps in another person’s shoes, and then perhaps 1,000 more. We are in this together.
During this time the feeling of hope can feel like it’s in shifting sands. I walked on the West Michigan sand dunes today, paving the word “hope” in one level spot. It struck me as I was carving out this four letter word that any preposition you put with it it can capture where someone is with it in this season: looking after hope, beside hope, beyond hope, between hope, dwelling in hope, among hope, walking through hope, inside hope, loving because of hope, around hope-full people, holding onto hope, out of hope, desperate before hope, without hope…
It sometimes can feel we have access to it, sometimes we feel we’re ten thousand steps away from it. Walking today ten thousand literal steps to shape this word in shifting sands meant I had to dig in, repeat steps, follow my path again and again. I got lost in it. I even became hope-less at one point in the process thinking what’s the point – do I believe this word right now?
And yet I knew I had to leave the area to see the hope creation. I had to walk 10 thousand steps and one thousand more to gain perspective of it. Let me expose my privilege of time today to find hope in the shifting sands.
Let me tell you who I had immense empathy for and said a hopeful prayer for:
For the woman behind the scenes in the hospital working in the nurses’ staffing office, coordinating time tables, deciding who will move to different floors, and who will attend to Coronavirus candidates. You are seen. I see you. You are a part of this fight. You are supporting the Front Lines. You hear the exhaustion on the other end of the line: the nurses who have worked a shift and they need to work another. Your patience and empathy makes a difference in your kind and supportive words. You’re walking a thousand steps with them. Continue on with them in hope. They may lash out in your ear out of frustration and pain. Continue on with your kind words. They need your kind words. I’m talking to you, Mom.
For the man behind the scenes setting up emergency communications and coordinating with FEMA to deliver more supplies to the hospitals. You are seen. I see you. You are a part of this fight. You are supporting the Front Lines. You hear the exhaustion of those in this office coordinating with response teams and funeral home teams. Your patience and your training others makes a difference. You’re walking a thousand steps with them. Continue on with them in hope that the operations you’re putting in place will mitigate fear and provide clarity to those involved in funeral preparations. I’m talking to you, Dad.
For the Amazon manager working behind the scenes to keep the station team morale high. Your 18 hour days on the warehouse floor coordinating social distance and combining new delivery routes and communicating with other stations from your bedroom floor when you get home: you keep advocating for your team. Your patience and your commitment to maintaining supply chains makes a difference. You’re walking a thousand steps with others. Continue on with them in hope. (And can I expose the privilege of America: to the person at home contemplating buying that toy for your kid or a new book for yourself and complaining about delayed shipment: that toy is going to be in the Fall yard sale. Look at your shelf for an unread book. Ask your neighbor to borrow one of theirs. Just stop complaining about how slow shipment is. Be content and creative with what you have). Be exposed to those who are working to get you your “needs.” I’m talking about my Brother – the one who asked me “how can I help you” after a 90 hour week.
Walk a thousand miles in someone else’s shoes. Sometimes that journey will show you some of the unsung heroes behind the scenes in this COVID-19 war. They’re important to expose, too.
I walked in between and around and at the ends of my literal and figurative hope this evening. On shifting sands no less that proved to be quite accurate in how my hope feels these days. But what was helpful was stepping away to gain perspective. Stepping away to see my hope.
Stepping away to see the sun set on it. Hopeful that the sun will shine on it tomorrow. Knowing that my hope isn’t meant to stay in this form forever; but rather, to be built up, re-shaped, and found in stories of empathy, fierce compassion, and behind-the-scenes heroic acts of kindness. We’re in this together. Expose that.