||[Feb. 1st, 2017|02:06 pm]
I remember not having empathy. Or, I remember having far less, at least. I suspect it was a coping mechanism. My religious upbringing made me think everyone was doomed unless they recanted their ways and became a Jehovah's Witness. Not a single person I met was ever convinced to become a JW, which meant that everyone around me was going to die in Armageddon. Rather than despair, it becomes easier to just not give a shit. It wasn't even a conscious thing. Looking back, I cringe at my callous behaviour.
The most egregious example is how I dealt with a coworker. I knew her from high school. She was neither a friend nor one of my bullies, ergo she was neutral. She was 17, going on 18 years old. I knew that her birthday was coming up but paid it no heed. Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate birthdays. The day after she turned 18, she came into work in a state of distress. My other coworkers asked her what was wrong. When she'd come home from celebrating her birthday, she was locked out of her house and no one would let her in. Her father had changed the locks and evicted her. In his distorted reasoning, once someone turns 18, they should live independently. Unfortunately for her, she'd had no warning. She wasn't allowed to get any of her belongings. She wasn't given so much as a quarter for a pay phone to call for help.
She managed to find a friend in the city who let her couch surf temporarily, but she had no way to get to work. She had to hitchhike 25 miles there and back to get to work. I listened to all this dispassionately. It never even occurred to me to offer to put her up at my place.
As time went on, she was becoming more and more desperate. She started carrying mace because she was so frightened about hitchhiking. After a while, she started sleeping on the floor in the back room at work rather than hitchhike every day. We worked at a campground, and some of the kids from the campground would bring her food to eat. Again, it never occurred to me to share my food with her, even when she commented on how good it smelled. I didn't think to give her clothes or offer to clean her work uniform at home. I did nothing for her. Nothing at all.
When I look back at this, I feel shame. How could I be so blind as to someone else's suffering? And yet I was.
For what it's worth, she did end up ok. I'm glad for this. I'm also glad that I'm no longer the same person I was then. Sometimes people tell me I don't have to save everyone. While I realize this, I know I have a lot of making up to do. I'm sorry, Andrea. I let you down.