Today, I was talking to my best friend, Jessica. She lives in Seattle, which seems much farther away than it is some days. We met our freshman year of college in an introductory philosophy class. Early on there was an incident with a goldfish, some candles and a freezer. I should have known then what I was getting myself into but hey, I was young!
Jessica and I are going on 20 years of friendship. She’d older than I am (by two months, but I like to rub her nose in it!). We have a million things in common and another million differences, all of which make us complementary, compatible and often hilarious. I’ve accumulated a lifetime of memories already…or as I like to call them, ammo….some of which I was able to use on her wedding day (SHE should have known better…lol). For instance, there’s the near death experience that involved an intersection in our college town and two milkshakes. Jessica’s deft driving skills saved both our behinds and our ice cream, making her the biggest hero of my life! And don’t even get me started on the blue fuzz burger!!!
About 10 years ago, Jessica and I went on an ill-fated driving trip to Las Vegas. It’s a long story that ended in us not talking to each other for a month. We’ve survived marriages, divorces and babies. We’ve been together through sickness and health. Between the two of us we’ve encountered just about every major life event that can increase your chance of a heart attack. And now, almost 20 years later, I am still proud to call her my best friend. She knows me better than just about anybody and she still loves me (which may say something about her judgment…just saying).
In terms of friendship, I have been blessed many times over and I thought today I would just reflect on one of the most special people in my life. She has never ceased to support me, even when she thinks I’m a knucklehead. And one day, if I ever become famous, she’ll be sharing the story about how I wore white cotton underwear before I met her.
I love you, Jessica.
It was probably inevitable that I’d choose to write about empathy today. It’s been one of the main focuses of my thought and of my work both professionally and academically for many years now. And I believe that empathy is the key to a more peaceful world.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share another’s feelings, to see the world from someone else’s point of view. And being empathetic can be hard. We see the world through our own particular set of filters, influenced by our upbringing, our beliefs, our educational and economic background and about a zillion other things. If you’ve ever wondered why it’s so hard to find common ground…well, there it is. Humans are complicated. Sometimes it’s hard to understand the world from our own point of view, much less try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
So why is empathy important to me? Well, first and foremost, my personal experiences and observation of the world tell me that we (the big WE) spend a lot of time feeling isolated in our emotions and circumstances. It’s easy to think we’re the only ones who feel a certain way, and I suppose from a certain point of view, that’s true. We’re all unique individuals so we experience the world in our own unique way. BUT, that doesn’t mean we can’t relate to one another. Support groups offer an excellent view of what this looks like. In a support group, we are drawn together by a common issue, but we experience the issue in our own unique way. Sharing those similarities and differences are what help us cope with our feelings and recover. It helps us gain perspective.
But ultimately, I think empathy is of infinite importance because it combats indifference (which is sort of the opposite of empathy). When we are able to put ourselves in one another’s shoes, we see each other as fellow human beings instead of reducing one another to skin color, age, sexual orientation or any of a number of categories that seek to separate us into neat little piles. And understanding our fellow human beings helps us better understand ourselves (I know, deep, right?). It gives us context. And it reminds us that we are part of a larger world, one that we should care about and take care of.
What would a world with more empathy look like?
…and delayed. After a long, long week in front of my computer, I took a much needed day off. So here’s my D post a day late.
I’m visually impaired. Most people don’t realize this about me because there’s really no visible sign of my disability (unless you look super closely in my eyes and then you start to notice that things are a little strange in there). What people usually notice is that I hold things very close to my face when reading. I sit very close to my monitor (ergonomics with a visual impairment can be a really pain!). Otherwise, you might never know unless I told you.
I was diagnosed with uveitis resulting from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when I was seven. One day, I couldn’t see the math problems on the blackboard and I failed a test. That was the beginning of my life with a visual impairment. Over the following years, I had surgeries, underwent treatmentd (often painful) and was equipped with all sorts of visual aids including large print text books that were so huge they wouldn’t fit in a backpack. Some people made fun of me but most people just sort of accepted me the way I was.
Now, as an adult, my vision is much better and I lead a relatively normal life minus one sort of huge thing…I can’t drive. Not being able to drive poses daily challenges to my life. When I lived in Seattle, I had access to wonderful public transportation and for the first time in my life, I was able to be more or less completely independent. When I moved to my hometown in southern New Mexico…not so much. So for those of you who might not be able to picture why this is such an issue, let me pose a few questions. Imagine you want to go grocery shopping. How do you do it? Do you walk? Can you haul all the groceries back home? Do you have to ask for someone’s help every single time you need to buy food for your family? What if your child got sick and you needed to run out in the middle of the night for medicine? Could you do it? If you ran a business, how would you get to client meetings?
When I became a mother, I wondered how my visual impairment would affect my ability to parent. I can’t ever be the carpool mom or the soccer mom…at least not without a lot of help. Even reading to my children at night looks a little different than it might for a normal sighted person. Then, when my marriage broke up, I really wasn’t sure how I could pull it all off. Imagine being a single mom with two small kids, a full-time job and no reliable transportation. Can you picture it? Sometimes even I’m amazed that I managed (and I couldn’t have done it without the love and support of my parents, friends and family – they are my angels).
Ok, so I don’t want you to think that I’m writing this post to complain. Actually, I attribute my disability to two of my best qualities: my compassion and my empathy. I’ve learned never to judge on face value…there’s always more to the story. I’ve learned to be kind and to take care of the people around me as best I can. I’ve learned that though I may face challenges in the day-to-day stuff in my life, I have endless capacity for love, enthusiasm and support.
Not seeing the world the same way you do gives me my own unique perspective. And I try to use that perspective to help other people, to improve my community and to make a great life for me and my children. My little boy tells me he looks forward to driving so he can take me places. How could I not love every part of my life, even my disability, when I am surrounded by so much joy? I have never let my disability stop me from doing the things I want to do…I just have to think creatively sometimes about how to accomplish my goals.
The truth: I wouldn’t trade it. It’s part of what makes me who I am.
As I clicked send on a very important email today, I started thinking about closure. This phase of my project is at an end. There is a lot of work to do down the road, but for now I’m closing a chapter and moving forward. A younger version of myself might have jumped directly into the next project but if I’ve learned nothing else in my life, it is that all things require proper reflection as we move away from them.
Of course, no inner dialogue on closure is complete without some examination of past relationships, memories of lost loved ones and even the progression of my professional life. As easy as it might be to dwell on the painful things in life, I make myself look at the good as well. When I think of loved ones I’ve lost, I try to think about what I’ve learned from them and what they meant to me. When I think of past relationships, I try to see how they shaped the person that I am today. And when I look at my professional life, I see an interesting mix of experiences that have led me to this place and this day where I am writing a blog post about closure.
So, my project is done, the fruits of my labor sent out into the world. I’m going to take this moment to reflect on how much of my heart went into that project and seek some closure so that I am fully ready for whatever happens next.
I am in a constant state of becoming. I think this most characterizes my adult life. I love learning new things and I’ve never met a challenge that I didn’t want to take, even when I knew better. Which, of course, is ironic because I’m also uncomfortable with the unknown. Fear of the unknown is another thing that characterizes my adulthood, especially my relationships, quite swimmingly. I’m a worrier, but I love new challenges. Eek! Can you imagine?
Ok, so back to becoming. I’ve had many powerful role models in my life for which I am eternally grateful. And when I think about the person I want to be, who I want to become, two spring to mind immediately. The first is my grandfather. He could be so difficult. He was opinionated and bossy and used to getting his way. But he was also giving of himself, especially in our community. And his civic-mindedness rubbed off on me in a big way. It’s led me to volunteer lots of time and resources to programs and causes that I felt would better my community and the world. It’s also led me to take on challenges that I might not have always felt prepared for, pursuing success with a single-mindedness that I’m sure I inherited pretty directly from him, like a Frankenstein-esque brain transfer.
The other person who has had a profound impact on my perspective as I walk through life is my grandma. My mom’s mom was an amazing woman. Stubborn, opinionated (you’re seeing a pattern here, aren’t you?), passionate and creative. She was an artist and a writer. She was the matriarch of our family and I loved her so dearly. I held her hand so many times in the days leading to her death and thanked her for all the gifts she had given me in my life. But one thing that she taught me that has really resonated with me in my adult life had to do with regret. For all her accomplishments and talents, my grandma had some deep regrets, including a regret about not going to college and becoming a writer professionally. When we’d talk about her life, and she’d talk about the things she wished she’d done with sadness in her eyes, it strengthened my resolve to live my life without regrets.
Becoming. Everyday, I am becoming the woman I want to be. My definition changes over time, but each new thing I do and each new challenge I take on leaves its mark on my path and guides me in my journey. I’d like to think that I will stay in this perpetual state of becoming until the day I die. And I hope that I will touch lives and help people everyday.
Are you becoming?
I’m taking part in the A to Z Blogging Challenge in the month of April and I thought I’d write about some of the things have inspired me or have shaped my life. So, for my A post, I’m going to talk about Authors.
My discussion of Authors is tied to another A – the Alamogordo Public Library. I was super involved in the Friends of the Alamogordo Public Library for about 5 years. I held positions as President, Communications Director and ended my stint as Programs Director. If you ask the people I worked with, I’m sure most of them would say I’m the one with all the crazy ideas. If I can dream it, I assume I can pull it off and it’s that attitude that characterized my service with this organization. Anyway, I got to work with some talented and wonderful authors. Whether we were planning book signings or literary programs, there was always a wealth of talent to be found our area.
Several of my programs included Michael McGarrity who writes detective novels and, more recently, historical fiction. That man is one of my favorite people. He’s fun, charismatic and he an incredible library supporter. As a result, he was always willing to give me a hand in my programs. My blog is titled Kissing Authors & Astronauts as tribute to some of the amazing people I got to work with (and kiss!). Here’s my first kiss photo: (and by the way folks, it helps to have a spectacularly talented photographer with you to document these moments).
From 2010-2012, I co-organized an annual literary event called the Alamogordo Speaker Series. These programs featured literary and culturally significant people and moments in New Mexico history. I am so proud of the work I did on these programs, the authors I was able to meet and the public education opportunities created for our community.
And as I’m talking about authors, I can’t forget to mention Phil Jennings. I did marketing work for Phil nearly 10 years ago and he really provided me with my first exposure to the world of book publishing, marketing and promotion. Phil is a colorful character and his faith in my work was so appreciated. His books hold a place of honor on my bookshelf (and now on my blog!).
A few of the authors who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with over the years include: Phillip Jennings, Michael McGarrity, Denise Chavez, Hampton Sides, Dorothy Cave, Shaughn Marlowe and Mark Sadler. As I continue my journey, I am already making connections with new authors (new to me anyway) who I know will impact my life in many ways.
Thank you authors!!!
I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
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#WhatsYourStory? Are you an author? I'd love to hear your story and so would my readers. Email me for more information.