September 7, 2021

Looking through the Empath’s Lens to do the Kindest Act of All.


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“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” ~ Wayne Dyer

I live in Delray Beach, Florida. It’s a beautiful village by the sea. My son lives in Oakland, California. It’s about as far away from home as you can get without leaving the country. Vacations are our way of reconnecting in person.

Last week, my husband and I stayed in a blissful boutique hotel in Laguna Beach called “Hotel Joaquin.” It was just what the doctor ordered. We ran away from home, two tired grownups leaving all responsibilities behind for a week.

We rented the young people a pet-friendly Airbnb on the sand in Newport Beach for their family of three. My daughter received an invitation during the planning stage, but at the time, she felt she had bigger fish to fry. Ultimately, she ended up staying in San Francisco to pack up her life in preparation for her upcoming move to New York City.

I absolutely loved our time together. It gave me a front-row seat to his life with Grace and Winnie. It has become quite clear to me that he is where he belongs—a California boy. He is living his destiny. It’s amazing he ever lived anywhere else happily because it suits his disposition perfectly.

Every morning, Dylan Facetimes us while he’s walking Winnie. It’s become a time-honored tradition. To say their rental was oceanfront is an understatement. The first step he took out of his back door was across the boardwalk and into the sand.

He did not break the tradition on our vacation. Each morning, when he called, he was wearing a sweatshirt and bare feet. His sensibility is California all the way—actually so is mine, but our life is in Delray Beach. Call me a late bloomer.

When I look at life through his lens, everything I see looks clear. When I feel what he feels, from his perspective, I don’t miss him as much when we’re apart.

I just reflect on the joy that is woven through every moment of his life. He and Grace have a  partnership that is based on a deep respect for one another. They are equally brilliant in different ways. Each has a career that speaks to his and her intelligence. They have created the life together that I always wished for him.

While the details may be different in each of our stories, most parents sleep better at night knowing their child is genuinely happy in whatever stage of life they’re in.

I have finally made peace with the distance between us; mind you, he’s been there five years. The early morning phone call is his way of reminding us that his heartstrings stay tied to East Coast time. So, now, when I feel a pang of missing him, I literally stop in my tracks and focus on how lucky I am to love a son as much as I love Dylan—the son who deeply loves his life.

“Our reaction to a situation literally has the power to change the situation itself.” ~ Unknown

I have friends who have switched roles with their elderly parents and are now in charge of their care.

Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor. They take care of us in our early years and sometimes we take care of them in their later years, if necessary. That sounds fair. Some are dealing with a parent suffering from dementia. Some dementia patients are perfectly content to exist in an alternate reality, and the suffering lies in the lap of their child.

How do we bury a lifetime of memories that still feel very real to us? How do we embrace their new reality when we can’t see what they’re seeing? There are many who truly suffer from dementia, and in no way do I mean to diminish that. I am just suggesting that perhaps it feels better to allow them to exist as they are. Letting that be okay for the caregiver is the work. Otherwise, it feels like they are swimming against the current in a river.

A simple shift in the way we look at a situation can dramatically change the way it feels to us.

When I see someone in a wheelchair, I think about how I can serve them. What that human being needs from us is connection, a smile, a kind word, or perhaps an inviting glance rather than looking down on them. Yet some of us are so busy protecting ourselves from feeling their struggle that we look away because it’s easier for us.

This may or may not even be on a conscious level. The brain often chooses the path of least resistance to protect us. Isn’t the very least we can do to them is to give them a moment of being acknowledged for who they are, not what they are sitting on? I spent time in a wheelchair so I know the look of sympathy, or the look away as I approached.

Sympathy is when someone looks down at you and feels sorry for you. It may not be intended as condescending but it offers no benefit. Empathy is when someone comes up or down to your level, so they can look you in the eye and offer you encouragement. I now see the opportunity we all are presented with when someone is disabled. It is only natural to have curiosity about what happened to this person.

That makes you human.

What we need to look at is who they are, on the inside. How courageous and strong must they be to have withstood whatever unexpected life storm that permanently put them in that chair.

They might be angry and bitter, and our sympathy only reinforces their right to feel that way.

So many things we take for granted are monumental tasks for them. It is our opportunity to honor someone who handles challenges, both physical and emotional 24/7. It is actually a privilege.

Don’t we have time to make a difference? Shouldn’t we make time? Can’t we push past our own fear in order to see them? They are someone’s brother or sister, father or mother, girlfriend, boyfriend, husband or wife. By shifting the way we see them, perhaps we can remind them of who they are—a soul inside a body.

My husband is far too skilled at burying his emotions when they are uncomfortable. When his mother was dying of cancer, his back literally gave out. He had been carrying her illness around with him, for her own sake.

Finally, the burden just became too heavy to bear. He could not find the courage to look at such unthinkable tragedy right between the eyeballs, so his body stepped in. It said to him, “You are under a ridiculous amount of pressure, so I am going to force you to slow down and rest. Take it all in, look this situation dead in the eye and start taking bites you can chew.

The way we look at things can either lift us up or take us down.

I remember interviewing for a job in my 20 something years. I did not have any previous experience for this particular technical sales opportunity. I would be selling hip and knee replacements that surgeons can use in the operating room during surgery.

What I did bring to the interview was strong selling skills, hustle, brains, and a willingness to learn. When previous work experience came up in the interview, I simply told them I had never sold surgical implants; there would be nothing to unlearn. They could tailor my orientation and teach me exactly the way they wanted me to do things. I started a week later.

We get to look at the situations in our lives and choose how to hold them, in much the same way we would carry around a bag of rocks. Do we throw it over our shoulder and switch to the other side when it feels too heavy? Do we carry it with two arms? Do we find something with wheels and push it? Do we drag it? Do we find someone to help us carry the load? Or, perhaps, we leave it there and come back when we’ve figured out a plan.

There are always options if we are willing to look.

Choosing how to move forward is empowering. Choosing not to move forward is a choice. Being frozen in fear is an option. It’s not ideal, but it is an option. Stepping into our power gives us a feeling of control in situations when there appears to be none.

We cannot always control our circumstances, but how we react to them shows the world who we are. And when we are courageous enough to be who we really are, life feels different, lighter, and brighter.

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