I think early on I was fairly normal in terms of my ability to handle tragedy. That changed when I became pregnant. All capacity to distance myself from the grief and pain of others left me. From then on, news items frequently brought tears to my eyes. This last year has further intensified it, hence the blog title. Sometimes it feels like I am going through the world with no skin on.
There are plenty of jobs in which ‘professional distance’ is required, and which become impossible if you empathise too much. I knew a nurse who was unable to tune out the suffering of wounded soldiers in her care, and who was coming close to being traumatised as a consequence. What does it say about the state of things if the only way to survive in an ostensibly caring profession, is by not caring too much?
Unlike even our relatively recent ancestors, we have the woes of the world delivered to us by international media. There’s probably no more woe out there than there has ever been – and in terms of life experience, many of us get an easier ride than they might have done a hundred years ago and more. Most of us don’t see violent death first hand, much less see it frequently. So maybe we’re encountering the idea of it a disproportionate amount even as we encounter the reality less frequently.
To be honest, I have no idea how much skin I *ought* to have. I feel everything all too keenly, and there are times when it would be useful to be moved less easily. But at the same time, this often painful awareness of other people’s distress is a constant spur, and makes it very hard for me to be complacent, or disinterested. Maybe that’s a good thing.
What prompted the blog is this. Yesterday, like many people, I heard about the four trapped miners. When news came through of the first body found, I was almost in tears. My grief was less for the dead, more for the families waiting and not knowing, for the heartbreak and the devastation to their lives. This kind of high profile tragedy always attracts empathy, but the odds are in the weeks, and probably months to come I’ll still be wondering how those people are doing, and what I would have done.
I remember when Princess Diana died, and there was a tremendous public outpouring of grief over her passing. Commentators remarked at the time that it seemed disproportionate, as though people were finding it an opportunity to vent private grief. Interestingly, my counsellor has been saying similar things – the undealt with pain can leak out in response to other things – sad films, and the distant stories of other people’s grief. The things we cannot weep over in our own lives are only expressed when something distant but hugely emotive reaches out to touch us.
Perhaps I am weeping for everyone else because I was not able to weep for my own wounds when I needed to. Perhaps there will come a time when the soul skin re-grows and I’m not so naked, not so vulnerable to every source of distress that comes to me through the media. Or perhaps not. I don’t know how I could honourably meet the world without breaking my heart. I’m not at all sure I want to go back to being able to hold my distance and tune things out. I wonder if my Druidry will require me to keep going through life like this, desperately raw and unable to protect myself on certain levels. Then I find myself asking what such a painful degree of awareness is for, and I know that in trying to answer the question, I’ll be beginning a whole new quest.