(by Nancy Joie Wilkie, Faraway and Forever—More Stories)
The third story in Faraway and Forever … “Half The Sky” … is about a teenage girl just prior to her eighteenth birthday … and who has been estranged from her parents for her entire life … and she doesn’t know why. After believing she might be an orphan, she is told that one or both of her parents might actually still be alive. So in the final week at the Abbey where she has lived for seventeen of her eighteen years, she sets off to discover why her parent, or parents, would have left her in the care of the Sisterhood so long ago.
People might ask why I wrote this story. And here is the painful truth. I have been estranged from my daughter for more years than I care to count … all because of a very horrible divorce … one you might hear about on the news or read about in a popular magazine. How the situation came about isn’t what’s important here. What is important is how I have tried to resolve the estrangement.
Recently I’ve been thinking about what sort of message I might send to my daughter on her upcoming birthday. Sometimes ideas for my letter come to me from a song or a poem, sometimes an idea comes from a conversation with a friend. This year, an idea cropped up while listening to a sermon from my wonderful pastor. The verse she preached on was Matthew 7:12 … known by most folks as the Golden Rule …
“Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophet.”
As I sat there listening to her, I began to think about my relationship with my daughter … or lack thereof. And the good news is … I think we are both treating one another exactly the way in which we each wish to be treated. I write to her from time-to-time, send her the occasional check, send her copies of my latest artist creation, all the while hoping against hope she would send back some sort of reply. And because she chooses not to reply, I have to assume she is hoping against hope that I would take the hint and stop sending her things. Quite the perfect example for the verse … except that we are both ignoring one another’s needs. The conclusion here is this … my approach of reaching out to her may not be the best way to interact with someone I hold dear.
As I thought about this sermon and its message during these last few weeks, I realized people do things for one another based on the assumption of how they would like to be treated themselves … this instead of taking the time to understand and learn about how someone else would like to be treated. This, of course, is the difference between sympathy and empathy. The Golden Rule is pretty much all about sympathy, I think.
And sympathy, naturally, means understanding the situation from one’s own perspective. Empathy, on the other hand, involves putting oneself in another person’s shoes and understanding why they have the needs they have. Empathy is seeing another person as their unique self with all of their wants, needs, and desires … seeing them as they are. By trying to understand my daughter’s needs, perhaps I can approach things in a different manner.
But in the absence of any dialogue, it makes me wonder if there are other options apart from the Golden Rule. The one option hinted at here … “treat others the way they want to be treated” might mean that sometimes people may want to be treated in a way not to their ultimate benefit or well-being. And if they want to be treated in a way with which we disagree, then things can become problematic.
I’m guessing all of this might be an important lesson applicable to all of our relationships. By empathizing rather than sympathizing, we make others feel seen, heard, and connected. After all, don’t we love people for who they are … not for who we project them to be? Don’t we try to support people for who they are … not just as an extension of ourselves. By taking the time to understand another person, asking them about their views and feelings, we can begin to treat people how they want to be treated. My letter to her should be me asking her for that chance to understand her.
The bottom line here is that I want whatever message I send to my daughter to be one that is done in a loving manner, based on empathy and not on sympathy. I want any relationship we might have to be based on understanding, and not on assumptions … and based on love … love that hears and love that is more connected. I will share all of this with her hoping that she, too, might give all of this some thought.
Since we are still estranged after all of these years, then she knows I am failing miserably at my attempts to reconnect. I just want her to know I keep trying to reach out because she is so very important to me. I look at all of this and admit to addressing my need and not her need. I pray she will accept my sincerest apology for this. It’s just that this is hard … so very hard. But I will try to listen to her silence as it is all I have … and I continue to pray she might understand my efforts to reach out to her.
But back to “Half The Sky” … even though my estrangement might never be resolved, I did want the young lady in my story to end on a happy note. Maybe my daughter might read the story some day and think about things differently. That might just be a really great birthday present, yes?
Copyright © 2023 by Nancy Joie Wilkie All Rights Reserved