One tear. Slowly making it’s way down her cheek. Unseen. Surrounded by people but with the most intense feeling of loneliness. An Island.
Destiny gave her empathy. An ability to feel the emotions others feel.
Empathy. And more than that.
Her mind wanders back in time.
“You are an Empath” he says.
“You have no choice, that is your greatest gift. But it is also your greatest curse.”
She frowns at him.
“What do you mean?”
He smiles gently: “You know exactly what I mean don’t you”
“Oh yes you do..you feel what others feel when they are hurting”
The frown deepens.
“Yes, I’m known to be understanding”
He looks down for a moment.
She feels his sadness.
“What’s wrong?” she asks with concern.
His eyes lift up, Look at her intensely.
He says nothing.
She shifts uncomfortably. Head tilts slightly to one side as she looks back into his eyes.
She can’t hold his stare. Looking down, she murmurs quietly: “I said yes I’m known to be empathic”
Quietly he says “and…?”
She starts to get frustrated now, eyes fly up to meet his: “And what? What do you want me to say?”
“I don’t want you to say anything” he says quietly.
“I just want you to recognize something important.”
She calms a little. Suddenly feels a sense of overwhelming sadness. Waves of it.
Eyes fill with tears. She looks at him, puzzled.
“Where is that sadness coming from?” he asks quietly
“From you..it’s coming from you…why are you sad?” she asks
He moves closer to her.
“You need to listen to me. This is important. You are picking up my feelings and taking them in. You are feeling what I am feeling, am I right?”
“You’re sad, I can feel it, yes”
He touches her arm. “No, you are not presuming or simply sensing that I am sad, you are actually experiencing the same emotion that I am experiencing, do you understand the difference?”
She wipes the tears unconsciously. “I’m only understanding what you;re feeling…but I don’t know why you’re feeling that way”
“Exactly” he says, leaning back into his chair again. Half smile, as though she has said something to please him.
“You don’t know why I am feeling that way. Yet you are feeling exactly what I am feeling. I gave you no clue as to my state of mind, no reason for me to be sad,yet you are feeling it. "
She is puzzled. Curious.
“You do this with a lot of people don’t you, this “pick up” of feelings?"
“Yes”, that’s why I’m so well known as being understanding"
“This is more than understanding. Please listen to me. What you do is more than simple understanding. You take the adage “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” literally. It’s a gift. You do not simply step into those shoes in your head, you step into those shoes and feel each step, each painful throb of the blister on his heel, the strength in his chest as he tries to hold back the tears of pain. Right?"
“Yes”, she answers, still puzzled as to his point “….isn’t that what empathic people do?”
He stares at her intently. Almost dramatic stare.
“No they don’t” he answers quietly.
“Empathic people imagine what it’s like to walk in those shoes. Imagine what it’s like to walk that mile. You actually feel, you actually experience it. Understand the difference?”
She just looks at him. A tear starts to form. her own tear, not someone else’s.
His eyes do the same.
“I know. I understand.” he says softly. He wipes the tear from his own eye.
“You must learn to protect yourself. You have this gift to help. But it can destroy you unless you control it. Trust me. I know.”
She looks at him, tears flowing freely now. Not of sadness. Of relief. Understanding.
“But if you understand, if you have this gift too, why have you stopped crying now…I have tears..you should have tears too…”
“You no longer need me to feel what you feel. I have learnt to control it. I learnt too late. I am a broken human being because of it. But I have learnt to use it only long enough to break through to those I am helping. I have learnt that they don’t need me to feel everything they feel for as long as they are feeling it. Does that make sense?”
“Control? I can control this?”
“You have controlled it in the past. Whenever the emotions became overwhelming, you stopped it. In your mind, you stopped being empathic. But you didn’t stop that understanding. You only stopped the emotions.”
She looks down, taking in what he is saying.
“Does that mean I don’t have to feel what others feel anymore, can I stop it altogether?”
“Yes you can. But you won’t. This is a gift. You need to help others and some can only be helped by you going through it with them. You just need to learn to control it to leave room for your own emotions. The sponge can only take so much”
“Will you teach me?” she asks, almost pleading.
“I just have” he replies quietly.
He looks almost serene.
And a feeling of calm envelops her.
“I’m not an island” she says quietly.
She looks at the sky, notices a bird struggling against the wind.
The tears flow more freely.
Not someone else’s.
And a feeling of calm envelops her.