Keep empathy!

What would you do, if you had a water leak? In your home? On your ceiling or your brand-new kitchen, brand new cabinetry? Would you scream, yell, even curse, as you try to make sense of the endless outpouring of water, snow, ice, melting too quickly and bursting pipes? Or would you remain calm, remain level-headed, maintain a cool demeanor, even?

Today, I had a water leak in my home. Not the kind that is annoying, and goes away with a little brush or sweep or a couple of fans blowing the wetness away. But a catastrophic one. A brilliant warm waterfall, noted one of my kids. Brilliantly raining down in my kitchen, my basement, my living room, even my utility room. Everywhere was wet and the water damage was monumental, a big whole, catastrophic mess. I was also a mess.

So I screamed. I cried and screamed some more. Then called our great contractor. I knew he would have answers. He was on his way to another job, but said he would come over immediately. I asked where the water-pipes where so I could shut them off. He noted probably in the front of the house, but advised not to go outside as there was snow everywhere and frigid temperature. I let out a scream on the phone. I forgot he was on the other line. He said, he was on his way as fast as he could. He drove fast, in the middle of a snow-filled road for us. When, he arrived, he was calm. I was still a mess. He started to look through the damage, to assess the house, to look at the waterfall, all with a calmness that was breathtaking.

I tried to emulate him, but my insides were frantic. My head was pounding. There was water everywhere now, my new cabinetry, my brand-new island, my new wood floors. Our contractor was still calm. He kept on saying, don’t worry, we can get everything fixed. I was still a mess. He started to look around the house to figure out where the water damage was coming from, looking around for the source, frozen pipes, listening to the house, looking around for which pipes to shut down, and which cabinetry to pull apart to dry up, even drying up the floors, while assessing the house. Slowly, with every step he took, every inquiry he made, every assessment, my catastrophic mood, once inconsolable, started to emulate his demeanor, his cool, irrational calmness in the middle of my catastrophic mess. “We are alive after-all,” I said to him, and so long as there is life, we can get through this. I was surprised at myself after I mouthed these words to him. That and “thank you” for being there.

Much can be learned, without words, when you unpack other people’s empathy for situations that seem complex. Empathy provides an opportunity to be and to become the Other. To see and learn from their point of view. What began as a quest for understanding, an escape from the messy complexities of life, with every scream for a water leak I could not control, became a searing process of learning. It was also an opportunity and a reminder to discover or imagine anew, why other people’s point of view matters. They help you see life for what it entails, with clarity and understanding. Keep empathy. It matters when life gets messy, even with water leaks that can be fixed.

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