There is this one old-school thing that Penny and I do somewhat religiously. Almost every night, we sit down together and watch the NBC Evening News with Lester Holt. Yeah, it’s just a skim of the day’s news but it’s mildly orienting and strangely comforting to have the news delivered by a trusted voice like Lester’s. We watch it all the way to the end just so we can hear him say, every night “Take care of yourselves and each other.” I think it is his way of reframing what, almost always, is a litany of bad news and a recap of malicious behavior.
What if we followed Lester’s advice? What if we took care of each other…intentionally and empathetically?
Just a few days ago, I was struck by an interview Lester did with a survivor of the Boston Marathon Bombingwhich occurred 10 years ago this week. Patrick Downes related what happened just five days after the incident as he recovered in the hospital from losing his left leg. Five disabled Marine Corps combat veterans, some on prosthetics and others in wheelchairs, showed up in his room that day and kept coming back to comfort Patrick and cheer him on in his recovery. They took it upon themselves to care for Patrick. And they did it with a sincere and powerful level of empathy.
That is the best way to care for each other. Not from mere sympathy or pity but from a knowing level of empathy. Those who have “been there” usually know best what to ask the sufferer. They know when to shut up and just sit there. They have a sense what advice would be appreciated. They get it.
There is a piece of scripture from the Bible in which the writer, Paul, describes this kind of empathetic care of others. He said (my paraphrase), “The comfort I have received from God I will pass on to you for your comfort.”
This is all it would take for us to start taking care of others. First, pay attention to the people in your sphere of influence and even those you casually encounter. Your “empathy radar” will reveal those who are facing the same struggle you have faced in the past. Then, just show up and you’ll know what to do to care for them better than anyone else possibly could.
You and I are not supposed to take care of everybody, but what if we took care of the ones we totally understand? The ones who spike our compassion. The people who are scanning the crowd for a knowing smile. The folks desperate for an empathetic ear.
Seriously, what if we took care of each other that way?