Over the past year or so, I have learned more about empathy, what it means to be an empath, and how that all fits in with the ministry I do.
I have also learned that while I am very empathetic to the emotional and physical troubles of other people, and while I have many empath tendencies, more than empathy, I understand that everyone walks a path, and each path is full of obstacles that only that person will understand. My job is not to “walk a mile in their shoes” nor is it to feel empathy for their troubles. My job is to understand that while everyone has obstacles to overcome, some obstacles are set in place by our culture, our society, our racist, self-concerned elected officials, all of which makes the obstacles of some far greater than the obstacles of others. My job is to walk with them as I can as they come to these obstacles. It doesn't hurt to empathize; in fact, it is good. Yet empathy by itself does little. It is like faith without works.
As an example: a loved one has an accident or illness and ends up in the hospital. After a long while, many expensive different tests and procedures, that loved one dies or is severely disabled. This happens to many people and is very relatable. We can all truthfully state how sorry we are for this happening.
However, depending upon where one lives, grief can be compounded by extreme debt which can result in any number of calamities. As an example, when the loved one is in the hospital, the employment status of the parent/spouse/partner can be in danger as that caregiver is by the side of the patient. If there is family or compassionate leave in one’s employment package, all is well. However, if one holds a job with no such thing, that person may find themselves without employment on top of the other concerns.
Those miracle tests and procedures that often save lives but sometimes cannot in the long run are expensive and may become the mountain that comes tumbling down. This is the difference between states that have Expanded Medicaid and those states which carelessly, selfishly, even sadistically do not.
Those medical bills and the loss of job due to family crisis can result in homelessness and full disruption of family life. Suddenly, families – minus one loved one, or with a medically compromised life – are not only mired in grief but also impossible debt, jobless, evicted, hopeless, homeless.
Only a part of this happened to my family. Two months of extremely expensive medical care would have been far different had our precious boy lived in Missouri rather than Oregon. Oregon has expanded Medicare. The governor of Missouri, kowtowing to the ignorance and self-concern of lobbyists and conservative politicians, deemed it prudent for his political life to ignore the demands of Missouri voters and deny the voice of the people to enact expanded Medicaid in this state. Had our loved one lived in Missouri, he would have first had to be approved for disability before he would become eligible for Medicaid. Even though he lay basically comatose for two months, who knows how long it would have taken to get him declared disabled? All this means is that his medical bills would have begun to pile, higher, and deeper.
Another important part that makes our situation different from those of too many is that our jobs are stable and while there was not an official compassionate leave aspect, the employers we work for are indeed compassionate. Our income continued even as we were debilitated with concern and grief. Our home and our dogs welcomed us as we returned. No bills went unpaid. Only the mountain of grief towers over us. From that, even if it threatens to crush us on some days, we will arise.
What has this to do with empathy? While the reader may be able (or not) to fully empathize with this situation, one does not have to have a heart moment to see the differences that exist for too many. How many families in Saint Louis City alone have lost all they have – ON TOP OF THE GRIEF – because the system proves daily that it does not care about them? This is not a matter of heart, of empathy. This is not an urban vs rural thing, conservative vs liberal. It happens to people across the geographical and political spectrum.
Grief is difficult enough to experience. No one should have to be concerned about healthcare, job security, or unpaid bills on top of grief. Our political system is corrupt and immoral. We have the power to change that. It is our job to make certain it happens.