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The World Wide Wail

January 24, 2010

Is it a wonder we aren’t all of us head-in-the-oven, falling apart, heart-broken zombies?  As if into each of our own lives enough sorrow does not fall, there is hardly a tragedy in the world to which we might not be privy.  The most recent globally mourned devastation, the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, is certainly a catastrophe and it is right to reach out from our wealth to their poverty.  The web and other modern technology make it not just possible, but easy and immediate.  Any one of us can spare what it takes to save a life there right now.  Hundreds of thousands have died, uncounted more are without a roof, food, water.

Sure, I’ve sent money to the Salvation Army (who are doing great work there in Christ’s name), but I’ve shed no tears for those pitiful people who have just lost everything when they had nothing before.  Do you know what pulls at my heartstrings this week?  A cat.  A cat I don’t know who belongs to someone I’ve never met.  I follow the owner’s Twitter feed because it’s interesting to window-shop the life of a successful author, whose work I generally enjoy.  So I, a complete stranger, am watching Neil Gaiman lose the sweetest cat ever.  Her name is Zoe.  She is fourteen years old, blind, was given a hip replacement because of her arthritis, and now is being taken by an inoperable tumor.  She will cross the Rainbow Bridge tomorrow.  But not before her human soul-mate, a girl called Olga, took a red-eye from the west coast to Minnesota to say goodbye.

Is it the details, the cat, or the scale of the drama which jerks tear?  The population of a sizable city is crushed beneath its own dwellings, but that is so far removed from one’s own experience that the news reels look like just another movie.  But a sweet little old cat walking feebly out of this world?  I’ve been in that movie.  I empathize.

empathy |ˈempəθē|
noun
the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Empathy has been a buzzword in recent years for the media and others.  They insist we empathize with all the victims in the world.  Who can understand what it feels like have loved ones flattened under cinder block?  Let alone share that feeling.

sympathy |ˈsimpəθē|
noun ( pl. -thies)
feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune

Sympathy is the word they’re looking for.  I would never presume to share the grief and horror of people who are injured, dying of thirst, and mourning the sudden deaths of so many.

So, while I sympathize with those Haitians, I empathize with Neil and Olga.  And still I miss desperately a little old frail cat called Wordsworth-Fireproof-Chutney-BulletTrain-SignorBisogno-InternationalIncident.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 11, 2011 15:12

    Jean Anouilh knew it when he said, “One cannot weep for the entire world; it is beyond human strength. One must choose.” Dying in 1987, he probably had no idea just how accessible the entire world was going to become very shortly. Certainly, we must choose.

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