The school in which I worked was a small community, and for many years those of us who worked there were quite a bit like a family. Everyone had their role, just like in all families. One person was the one you went to when you had a problem and you needed help with taking action. She could listen to you, hear exactly what the concern was, and advise about next steps in a direct way, all the while keeping her opinions to herself and keeping your best interests at the forefront. There was the comic relief, a guy who could make you laugh no matter how upsetting or difficult or boring a meeting was. There was the person who always made it all about her (not all family roles are great ones…). Of course, there was always the head of the family, the principal.
Because I had taken a lot of time in college to learn about the roles people play in families and because I’m a reflective person, I always liked to analyze what the roles were for each person. I liked to see the consistencies across schools, too, showing what type of person was needed. Naturally, I also wanted to see what kind of roll I could play in this mix. When I was first hired, I became the listener not necessarily because I’m good at it, but because I was probationary and should keep my opinions to myself for a while. Even after my probationary time ended, I was still the person that staff members came to when they needed to talk. I listened. I empathized. I spoke up about concerns at meetings. I tried to be the voice of those unwilling or unable to speak up. In doing this, I received the greatest compliment of my career. When one principal was writing a letter about me, she described me as the heart of the school. I’d never felt quite so honored.
You see, something that I always considered a weakness had become a strength. My empathy had been a challenge at some points in my life, but I grew into it. As a full fledged adult I had been able to use it as a way to support people rather than something that brought me down. It was a powerful gift.
This past week, my empathy has been working overtime. Since the election results were announced, I have so many loved ones that my heart is breaking with and for, and I am becoming overwhelmed by the feelings of hopelessness and sadness that they are experiencing. My empathy also causes me to wonder “am I even justified in feeling upset, too, since I am not a threatened minority? Do I have a right to my pain or is it privilege?” I think I do have a right to my pain, even if I’m not a member of a threatened group. My heart breaks for those I love. It breaks for the fate of marriages and families. It breaks knowing that many families I worked with as a teacher are living in fear of deportation. My heart breaks for people who are afraid.
I’m going to try to be that person I was in the school here in the outside world. I’m going to be a person to come to. I’m going to be a safe place to talk. I’m going to care for anyone at any time. We all need a little extra love right now.