Like most of my fellow countrymen, I’ve spent a good part of this past week glued to the internet and TV. Were it not for the media and the fact that I have two sons in the army, where I live I would barely, if at all, feel the impact of the de-facto war that is being waged not far from me.
And yet, even with no actual physical reason for any disruption in my day to day life, I have been almost dysfunctional this past week. It’s not just the uncertainty of the situation, although uncertainty does play a big part in undermining our routines and sense of security.
Empathy is what’s been killing me.
I see people whose families have been shattered and forever changed by death, injury and fear. I see people who were already on shaky financial ground, who have now in one fell swoop been plunged into financial disrepair with no respite in site. I see pictures of destruction, and fear and terror. I hear sirens and explosions. I see pictures of mothers sheltering their children with their bodies. I see the sadness, worry, panic and fear in people’s eyes. I see the deflated body language of people whose hopes and dreams are slipping through their fingers. And for each story I hear I know there are thousands more.
I want to make things right, yet I know that even if I was Bill Gates I wouldn’t have the resources to fix everything I want to fix. Not in this conflict, not with my patients, not with my friends and not even with my family. I am grateful for the fact that I’m safe and not living under constant, incessant daily attacks. I also know that it takes but a single second for ANY person’s life to be turned upside down. Just today there was a bus bombing in Tel Aviv, down the block from where I work one day a week. Had it been my day at work, I might have been right there.
Each and every single story I hear has been cutting into my soul. I see, I listen, I internalize and then at some point, without realizing I’m doing it, I start building walls, one brick at a time.
On one of the Facebook groups I belong to, there was a discussion about why many friends of ours in America, both Jewish and non-Jewish, seem somewhat indifferent about the situation here. I think that it’s the saturation issue. So many things are going on at home and all over the world, that people invariably and often unconsciously pick and choose what they concentrate on and where they use their energy and resources.
The events of this past week here in Israel have sharpened what my line of work has taught me. If you don’t put up some walls you can’t exist, or should I say you can’t exist with your sanity intact. There is no way you can feel empathy for everyone, and definitely not at the same time. The amount of pain you would feel if you did not have the ability to block some of it would literally break your heart. You would not be able to function.
I think that empathy and the ability to feel for others is what makes the world great. I also think that we have limits as to how many people and/or causes we can feel deeply for or about at the same time. To live without putting up walls would be like living life in a constant tense alert state. That’s fine for the short term, but can’t possibly hold up in the long run.
You need walls. You need to be able to shut things out and to filter. Walls are what help you cope and live through horrifying and terrifying situations.
We need the walls to protect our sanity and once in a while we need to let the walls down, and let our emotions wash over us, until we can build the walls again.
What do you think? Do you put up walls to make life’s sorrows and pain bearable?
Filed under: Lesson of the Day