Showing posts with label empathy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label empathy. Show all posts

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Stranger's Kindness

                I had a minor panic episode this morning while walking to a doctor’s appointment.  I was crossing an intersection when a car drove by, the driver yelling something at me.  I jumped in fear; my heart constricted and my lungs contracted as a wave of dizziness washed over me.  My body froze as I stood on the sidewalk waiting to return to a state of equilibrium. 
A crossing-guard noticed my reaction and asked if I was okay.  Without much forethought or conscious effort, I found myself telling this concerned stranger all about my accident and my fear.   Two years ago, I was hit by an elderly driver while walking across the street.  I was on the crosswalk with two other pedestrians – the driver drove up onto the median and hit all of us.  I was the first person to get hit – my head went through the windshield, leaving me with a mild traumatic brain injury and a laceration above my right eye that required 100+ stitches and missed slicing my eye by less than a millimeter.  The crossing-guard was sympathetic – she listened to the babbling of a stranger with patience, her face a mirror of empathy. 
I explained to the kind woman that my life at the moment is about balancing my fears – I panic at the sight of on-coming cars, which leaves me with the option of either panicking while driving or panicking while walking.  A few months ago, when I was trying to drive again, I was almost hit by another driver.  I came very close to blacking out from the incident, which has left me with a deep-seated fear of causing a car accident from my anxieties.  At this point in time, I choose to face my fears while walking.  At the very least, I can stand on the sidewalk until my fear subsides. 
In return, the woman told me about her fear of driving – she was rear-ended last year.  Now whenever she sees a car behind her, she is anxious that she will get hit from behind again.  I told her I was sorry to hear about her accident and we commiserated about Houston traffic.  She told me I was strong, which brought me to the point of tears – I do not feel like a strong woman.  We talked for another ten minutes, about life and marriage and family, before I had to leave to make my doctor’s appointment.  I thanked her and said good-bye. 
I wish I had given her a hug.  Or told her just how much her sympathy meant to me.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When Life Will Never Be The Same Again

Note: This post is in memory of the victims of the Aurora theater shooting.  My heart goes out to all of those affected by this senseless tragedy.

          November 3, 2010, I was in an accident.  I was walking across the street, on my way to work, when a man in a Nissan Sentra ran a red light and hit three pedestrians, myself included.  I looked over a millisecond before impact; in that millisecond I learned what it feels like to be unable to flee an impending fate and to think that death is imminent.  This terrible knowledge lingers with me to this day, weighing me down with a frightful sense of the fragility of life.  I can no longer trust that drivers will obey the basic laws of traffic and I now know the full pain of driving mistakes.  
          As a fellow victim of a senseless trauma, I am reeling from the tragedy of the Aurora theater shooting.  I cannot fathom why a person would commit such a violent act of hatred towards a group of innocent people.  I have been trying - and failing - to put my very deep sorrow into words.  My heart goes out to all of those who have been affected by this tragedy, whether they were in that theater or love someone who was.  
          Life will never be the same again for these survivors.  Never again will they have the luxury of walking into a darkened theater in eager anticipation of spending a few hours in mindless entertainment.  Never again will they be able to watch - or hear - of Batman, without suffering flashbacks and ghastly nightmares.  Never again will they have the luxury of trusting in the goodness of strangers.  
          The media loves to concentrate on the bravery and resilience of survivors.  And in the first few weeks following a tragedy, survivors are strong and brave.  But the true test of survival is when the media cameras move on to the next story.  When the friends of the survivors forget and move on to their next phase in life.  When the survivors find themselves alone, with no one but their own thoughts for company.  That is the point when mettle begins to crumble, superhuman strength begins to wane.
          Right after the accident, I was strong and brave.  I made jokes - my words slurring from the morphine and the traumatic brain injury - about getting into a fight with a car.  I fought to let my grad school advisers know where I was and what had happened.  I fought to start walking again, one slow painful step at a time.  I fought to return to school and the life I had before.   I was a “success”, an “example” of the resilience of the human body.    
          But what I neglected - and what most of the people around me were oblivious to - was the emotional impact of the accident.  The pain and the physical recovery were the easiest hurdle to overcome.  And yet I used up all of my willpower just clearing the first hurdle.  By the time I realized the full emotional impact of my accident, I was drained of strength.  
          When I returned to my old life, I found that my old life no longer fit.  I had changed - I just didn’t know how.  Between the anxiety and the nightmares, I found myself unable to handle the high-stress environment of grad school.  I was forced to withdraw from my Ph.D program and re-evaluate the new person that I had become.  Almost two years after this accident, I still suffer from severe panic attacks and nightmares, all involving cars and the awful inevitability of fate.  
           And so I ask you to be sympathetic towards trauma victims.  I will never understand what the victims of the Aurora theater shooting went through.  But I do know that their lives will never be the same again.  I would urge you to lay aside the partisanship, the blame, the finger-pointing, and focus on the victims.  Focus on their physical and emotional recovery.  Focus on who they are as fellow human beings.  
          I am a believer that our experiences shape who we are as a person.  We cannot choose our experiences but we can choose our responses.  I am still sorting out the effects of my accident but I do know that this accident has caused me to become more thoughtful, more empathetic towards other human beings.  The victims of Aurora will spend years doing the same.  As a nation, we need to use this tragedy to reflect on who we are as a people and to become more empathetic, more aware of our shared humanity.