Caveat: While I do love to read poetry and endeavour to write some now and again, save for a sprinkle of undergrad English, I have not studied it thoroughly and have no expertise on the matter.
The notion of empathy has been in the air for me lately. From attending a guest presentation by The Empathy Factory to having an employer actively working towards international recognition as a “Compassionate University,” it just seems like a word I’m hearing more than ever before–and significantly so.
I’ve been thinking carefully about what it means to be empathic and, to be perfectly honest, have been struggling to relate. I’m generally more the type of person inclined to offer a cup of tea or a potential solution to a friend’s dilemma, rather than just the listening ear that he or she might need. The more time I spend thinking about this concept–this seemingly immeasurable, Herculean-in-size concept–the further away from it I feel.
I understand its importance. I know that it’s a genuine emotional response in which an individual puts herself in the shoes of another so that she can truly identify with the experience in question. In theory, I think I get it. My own struggle arises when it comes to putting empathy into practice. Unlike sympathy, I just don’t know what empathy is “supposed” to look and feel like within myself and thus, am unable to know if I’m demonstrating it or not.
Then, I had an epiphany.
When I was out for a walk this afternoon, sighing at the icy grey sky and wishing for the greenness of spring, I recalled a poem: “i carry your heart with me(i carry it in” by E. E. Cummings. I thought about the first few lines:
i carry your heart with me(i carry it inmy heart)i am never without it(anywherei go you go,my dear;and whatever is doneby only me is your doing,my darling)
It resonates with me now in an entirely different way. Certainly, it’s still a love poem; but beyond the surface of love, I think Cummings speaks to the ability of partners to empathize with one another. This is my thought: If empathy requires us to put ourselves on the same emotional level as another to be able to relate to them, then figuratively holding the heart of another within your own heart is surely the deepest way two beings might connect in a shared experience. Even if two are physically apart, the perceived linking of their hearts indicates a mutual ongoing connection.
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
We are the same. I’ve been there.
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meantand whatever a sun will always sing is youhere is the deepest secret nobody knows
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
Then again, what do I know? 🙂
Fans of the poem, feel free to print off the PDF of the image below. Enjoy!
“[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]” from Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings. Source: Poetry (June 1952). Accessed at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/179622