“I think I have a problem,” my daughter states, standing before me, her big blue eyes blinking rapidly, on the verge of a confession.
She is 17 now, at the cusp of womanhood, straddling her teenage years for just a few dangling moments before leaping into the adult world.
“I see people and feel bad for them, and then I cry. Like, I cried for the nail-lady at the salon because her job is to file nails all day. And I just cried seeing two people hug good-bye.”
We talk through this perceived challenge. The beauty in having empathy for others, noticing their emotions and relating to them, which makes us compassionate. Humane. Human. But also in the idea of making up stories. Fictitious accounts that sometimes trigger emotions in us that serve no purpose.
Maybe the manicurist is thrilled that she is a small business owner and emigrated to the US with just two dollars in her pocket, a child of uneducated parents who couldn’t make a living, and this- this nail salon is the success of a lifetime. She is a celebrity in her family. The crown jewel.
“If you get stuck on these feelings, if you cry for weeks on end over that airport goodbye, then I’d say it’s a problem to address. But noticing and feeling and crying is completely normal. Feel it, and move on.”
I also try to tell her that just like she can make up stories about events or people she witnesses, that cause her to feel sad, she can also create images that make her happy. The nail-lady may truly love her job of painting tiny decorations on nails, and wouldn’t have it any other way. No need to feel bad for her.
In the world, there are feelers and non-feelers. Warm and cold. Empaths and sociopaths, and a lot of gray in between. We all fall somewhere on the spectrum. There is no real normal. It’s all encompassing. It’s what works for you. And if it doesn’t, you don’t have to accept it as your normal. It’s not a life-sentence, but something that can be investigated and adjusted if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.
Sometimes I can be perceived as cold, detached. And sometimes I think I feel too much. I can sit stoically and not laugh as everyone around me bends over in peals of glee. I can cry from reading a book on the parshah, the words and feelings coming alive before me as if they were right before my eyes, or I can reverberate with connection in a moment where everyone else feels emptiness, my words erupting and then falling as an empty mirror on the floor. There is a time to feel and there is a time to numb. Occasionally they get crossed but each state of being has its purpose.
A person who is emotionally passionate will taste the world in a different way. There will be torrential ups and downs, filled with experiences across the spectrum; a wild ride. Someone less emotional may have a more static experience, one that the other might say is flatlining and unappealing. Others might call it calm and stable. There is no right, and there is no best. There is just a complex variety.
The things we sometimes perceive as problems or weaknesses within us, are most often not so. They are gifts. Unique, intended with intention. Sometimes they are easy gifts. Ones that are widely appealing like radiant beauty or overt wealth. And there are those that come cloaked beneath layers, wrapped tightly in a not-so-neat package that needs to be meticulously peeled away to reveal the inner gem. Learning challenges, emotional conflicts, a disfiguring disability.
Perhaps this is our mission; to find the inner light. To reveal the gift beneath the wrapping that can be misrepresented. To connect with what we think may be our challenges and be grateful for them, because our problems truly can be our greatest assets. To change the way we see things. To read the world in a more complex fashion and delve beneath the surface until the beauty is entirely revealed.