I close my eyes every time as I inhale the soft skin of your neck. The atmosphere of your pores rushing through me softens the inside of my mouth and shivers the deepest part of my stomach. You smell, my love, quite simply like the deepest, hottest summers of my childhood. Like ice cream melting across my hands and the rising heat of asphalt too scorched to press my naked feet against. You smell, my dearest, like endless afternoons spent lying on the couch, wrapped in each other against the winter cold outside our small apartment. You smell like home.
It’s so easy to sit in judgment of parents and children and zookeepers and strangers. People who you’ve never met.
It’s so easy.
It’s infinitely harder to person up. To pull loose your heart strings. To release the strict hold you keep on your borders and really look at another person.
Because really seeing means letting yourself be seen. Means being vulnerable. Means realizing that the things that we judge other people for are things that we do all the time.
Who hasn’t been guilty of letting our guard down for a moment? The only difference between all of us and certain mothers and zookeepers is that we weren’t the ones taking our eyes off of our child at that crucial second.
We weren’t. But we could have been.
And that fact is the thing that keeps us from true empathy with other human beings.
Because acknowledging that the only thing separating us and them is a cruel blend of circumstance and blind luck is too terrifying to handle.
So we blame. And we stand up and call for the heads of people who have made the same small mistakes that we make every day at a critical moment that ended in tragedy.
Blame is easier. Judgment is easier. Hatred is easier.
Love is hard. Empathy is hard. Compassion is hard.
Within those three things dwells the sharp knowledge that we, in all of our convictions and certainty, are as fragile and as vulnerable to harm as the people we are so quick to villainize.
Empathy is like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. The easier it becomes to do the hard work of looking at another person and recognizing yourself.
Try it. You’ll see.