• A. D. Metcalfe

Empathy

Updated: Jun 1


I had just turned seven when my family moved to a new neighborhood. It was the middle of the school year, and I was in second grade. Maybe my parents explained to me what was going on or maybe they didn’t. Either way, it would’ve been difficult for someone at that age to mentally and emotionally prepare for all the changes that were bound to occur. I’m sure the first few days were pretty chaotic, with all the unpacking and settling in, but it’s all extremely vague to me.


The first clear memory I do have is of my mother walking me to a new school. She had me sit on a bench in the hallway while she went into the administration office. After what seemed like a very long time, she emerged, kissed me goodbye, and some stranger ushered me to a classroom where there was already a lesson in progress. The teacher handed me a sheet of paper and a basket full of colored rods, and told me to do the assignment. I went to a vacant desk and sat down, surrounded by kids I’d never seen before, all of whom were busily working away.


I had no idea what I was supposed to do with the materials I’d been given, and I was too shy to ask. Feeling confused, scared, and alone, I started to cry quietly to myself. The teacher noticed and came over, but rather than comforting me and trying to explain the assignment, she said to stop crying and told me that I looked ugly when I cried. I remember her words verbatim, and I can picture her face as clear as a bell, even though it’s almost fifty years later, because it still affects me. To this day, whenever I cry, I become self-conscious and ashamed, and when I think I’m supposed to understand something that I don’t, I sometimes feel small and helpless.


Having had about twenty years of therapy since then, (not solely for that reason) I do have the tools to extinguish the embers of those feelings each time they reignite. I’m also aware that as childhood traumas go, this one is pretty mild.But in that moment, it felt like everything safe and familiar in my life had completely disappeared, and that’s pretty damn scary for a seven-year-old.


When I see children being separated from their parents at the U.S./Mexico border, I’m sure that what they are experiencing is (obviously) magnified by at least a hundred, and I can’t help but wonder, when exactly did the people of this country lost their capacity for empathy?


Do people never take the time to imagine what it must feel like to actually be one of those children, to feel their fear, their uncertainty, and their helplessness?


They didn’t choose to come here. They simply happened to be born to people seeking a better, safer life, yet they are the ones the American government is traumatizing. They are the ones most frightened, most vulnerable, and most likely to be scarred for the rest of their lives.


To make it worse, the self-righteous attitude of the people who support this policy is appalling, as if that couldn’t possibly be you, because you were brilliant enough to have the foresight—preconception, by the way—to choose an American vagina from which to be spit forth.


You’re far too savvy to have been born in a country such as Mexico, or El Salvador, or Syria. So fuck all those losers who were too lazy to research The Best Snatch From Which to Hatch.


I’m not religious, and I don’t understand how everything works. Maybe life is totally random, maybe there’s some greater universal plan. Maybe we’ll all be reincarnated into the very thing we fear the most. The one thing I do know for sure is: there but for the grace of God (or whatever), go I. So wouldn’t it be wise to give the Karma Police as little to work with as possible?


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