BY PIPER KLEMM
Empathy is a strange thing. It’s easy to empathize when we have had exactly the same experience as someone, but it can be hard when that time is long passed or has never been. I used to always wonder about politicians who suddenly became okay with gay rights when they had a gay child. Could they really feel no compassion until it happened to them?
It is so easy to get wrapped up in right and wrong and perception, even for the most empathetic person. We convince ourselves that we deserve what we have, and maybe even more. That our station in life is merited, even if others have fewer rights or more worries. That we are entitled to our health, our relationships, and our love.
This pandemic has been a mind warp for all of us. Being cooped up, changing routines, having unprecedented anxiety and inability to plan. I personally have not seen a sick person in months. I have not seen any people. It gets easy to wonder what’s going on out there in the broader world and being bombarded with thousands dying daily reports at this point is so remote and impersonal. Being a whirlwind of chaos myself and spending 100% of my time with my exacting and organized husband has been a new turn for our relationship.
And then it happened to me.
Not COVID. A more simple and timeless health scare in my own life that restored my empathy in what other people are facing and managing with during this time.
Ordering take-out from a restaurant we have eaten at a hundred times since we moved here 7 years ago, Adam and I sat down to eat at home the other night. Our seemingly millionth meal in a row with only each other. A bite in, his throat closed. There was peanut contamination and Adam is allergic. Necessary action was taken. By 48 hours later, all the swelling had come down and we were back to normal.
Luckily, anaphylaxis is rarely biphasic—if you can get over the initial hump, statistically you will recover just fine. Later that night, I sat with him for hours, just staring into the dark and twirling the epi-pen in my right hand. It was his first peanut exposure in 11 years and his worst since he was about three years old.
We take every precaution and every avoidance tactic. He is quite simply militantly careful 24/7. And life owes us nothing—one moment can change it all. One moment of exposure, one unwashed knife or not clean enough pan. One day choosing to not wear your mask.
Could we mandate complete safety all the time on everything? No one wants that. We all have to make our own decisions and work hard toward the collective. The economy is vital and we also need to remember that generation after generation dies for our economy. Between going back to work early, wars, and other shortcuts taken for vested interests, the course of human history shows individual lives as expendable and inconsequential. They are numbers and statistics in a news article.
Sitting with Adam that night, I couldn’t help but recite old poems I had long forgotten in my head to calm my nerves and pass the hours. From the crevasses of high school English came the epoch, Dulce et Decorum est. Pro Patria Mori. Wilfred Owen during World War I quoted Horace and stated “the old lie,” which roughly translates to “it is sweet and honorable to die for the fatherland.”
This year, every year, let’s take care of our people. Wear your mask, wash your hands, be compassionate, help people, donate money where you can and time where you cannot. Be the change this world deserves.
Because even one statistic in my family, in my tribe, is too much for me. One number on a piece of paper could upend everything I wake up for in the morning. One life is too many.
Looking at Adam finally asleep on top of the bed, I unfold another sheet from the closet in the pitch black and wrap it around him. His fingers, barely able to move, knead at the edges. “This is not the top of the sheet,” he says, fully asleep, already rearranging it correctly with a precise certainty that only he would bring to a crisis. I smile, tentatively at first and then broadly into the darkness. This too shall pass.
Originally from the August 2020 issue.
About the Author: Piper began her tenure as the Publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine in 2014. She received her B.S. with Honors in Chemistry from Trinity College [Hartford, CT] in 2009 and her Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 2012. She is an active member of the hunter/jumper community, owning a fleet of lease ponies and showing in adult hunter divisions.
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