A 17-year-old girl was killed on Saturday night, October 11, 2014 in a freak accident on a haunted hayride in Mechanic Falls, Maine.
Her name was Cassidy Charette, and she was a student at Messalonskee High School. I live in the area, so I could very well have seen her at the grocery store, the ice cream stand or the sub shop. She was my neighbor, even though I didn’t know her.
And I cannot stop thinking about her.
This is what it’s like to live with the HSP or Highly Sensitive Person trait.
A death on the news is not just a statistic to me, not just an anonymous blip on the radar of my day. Being HSP, I feel the emotion and pain of others. I think of Cassidy’s last moments, the fear of realizing that the ride is spinning out of control. I think of her parents and their unimaginable grief: their 17-year-old daughter is supposed to come home after a night of Halloween fun with her friends. I think of the people left behind: her family, her classmates and teachers, those that knew her as a presence in the community.
I read about a fatal car accident, and I think of the victim and their loved ones. I see film of battle, and I feel the fear of a farm boy dealing and trying to avoid death. Needless to say, I have to leave the room if I see 9/11 footage.
HSP means hyper sensitivity, and I’ve learned to manage it so that I’m functional and rational: not running into every burning building I see, not tracking down strangers to offer condolences for their losses, realizing that bad shit happens daily and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.
And I appreciate that I have this enhanced sense of empathy and compassion. It has served me well in my desire to take care of others (if not always myself—working on it).
And it has helped me immensely as I wander farther along the path of mindfulness and Buddhist thought.
Long before I started taking a look at Buddhism, my default setting, without knowing it, was already Bodhicitta, or “Enlightenment-mind,” a mind that strives toward awakening and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings. I’ve always thought of—and wished to help—others first. And now that I’m looking into Tonglen (Tibetan for “Giving and Taking” or “Sending and Receiving”) meditation, which focuses on taking in the suffering of others on the in-breath and giving happiness and success on the out-breath, my sense of inner-altruism makes total sense.
Now that I can put Sanskrit to my emotional spectrum, I feel a sense of great “ah-hah” enlightenment; that “Field of Dreams” feeling of all the cosmic tumblers clicking into place and the universe opening up to show me what’s possible. The more I read and contemplate, the more I find myself wanting to help others…by helping myself.
After many years of not being very kind to myself, I am now turning it around and practicing Maitri: unconditional friendliness to myself.
It’s a practice—I have quite a bit of re-programming to tend to—but I’m getting there, and allowing patience and compassion for myself as I put in the work. And by practicing kindness toward myself, I will be able to practice kindness toward others.
It all starts with me.
The idea that we are all part of the natural world, interdependent on all other humans for our existence, resonates deeply with me. Bodhisattva spirit is awakened with the knowledge that my actions and intentions may affect a total stranger half-way across the globe. Or a kid several towns over.
It’s like the eco-tourism idea, “Leave nothing but footprints. Take nothing but pictures.”
I have absolutely no desire to trample the dunes, knowing I could kick sand in somebody’s eye and have my ass pounded for my trouble.
In our time of mindless electronic distraction and information overload, it’s so easy to miss the human side of a statistic. A tragic death is reduced to a binary stream, and we read about it and go back to wondering what’s for dinner. But in my world of HSP and Bodhisattva spirit, Cassidy Charette is much more than a name in a news script. She is a vital presence in my life, and I hope to honor her memory with compassion for all.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Wikimedia Commons