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Practice Day 34: Teach Me Empathy.

Theme/Mantra: “Teach me empathy”


What I learned From my Mother by Julia Kasdorf

I learned from my mother how to love

the living, to have plenty of vases on hand

in case you have to rush to the hospital

with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants

still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars

large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole

grieving household, to cube home-canned pears

and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins

and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.

I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know

the deceased, to press the moist hands

of the living, to look in their eyes and offer

sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.

I learned that whatever we say means nothing,

what anyone will remember is that we came.

I learned to believe I had the power to ease

awful pains materially like an angel.

Like a doctor, I learned to create

from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once

you know how to do this, you can never refuse.

To every house you enter, you must offer

healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,

the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.


Settle into a space for meditation, both physical and mental.

Take one or two cleansing breaths as you focus on your breathing.

Breathe in for the count of 8, hold for the count of 8, exhale for the 8.

Sit with the idea that Gratitude is the other half of empathy.

To know what you have is gift. And to be grateful for it.

To feel compassion for those who have less, suffer more.

What does empathy feel like in your body?

Pay attention to that feeling.

What actions do you want to take in response to those feelings?

Listen to what is right for you now to hold.

Physical Movement:

Today I encourage you to choose a physical movement that shows empathy for another. If you see someone struggling to open a door, to carry bags to their car from the grocery, even to sit in their chair at work and do their work because you know their husband just died and they are wracked with grief….

Cultivate a heart of empathy that is aware of their need. And use your body, your hands, to act.

And don’t be confused with this as an act of pity. If it is pity you feel, then please don’t act. But this is an act of empathy. Of compassion.

And empathy that says, “I don’t know your pain right now, but I know pain. So I can understand why you might not be okay.” Maybe it isn’t emotional pain- maybe it is a physical impediment. Maybe it is aging and the atrophy of the body in that process (something which we will all face). Maybe it is those who are job insecure, or home insecure, or food insecure. Know that if you are secure in these things- to celebrate and be grateful, and that even if you work hard for those things, there is also fate/luck/coincidence involved in your security, and another’s lack thereof.


When I was working as a pastor a few years ago, at a progressive anabaptist church, I was creating a curriculum for a children’s summer “Peace School.” We chose three lessons of teaching for children on peace. And for this year one of the lessons was empathy. I had the children walk through a complicated obstacle course we set up in the basement while wearing someone else’s shoes. Literally they had to walk in someone else’s shoes. High heels, heavy steel-toed boots, snow shoes. Whatever the shoe that was different from their normal daily sneaker.

It is hard to teach empathy. Some people don’t have the capacity to feel it. But generally I think it is one of the basic, inherent characteristics of being human. And I believe it is our culture and societal pressure that teaches it out of us.

So, to practice empathy can have great results in healing that within ourselves that has grown selfish and cold.

To realize that you are definitely special and gifted in many ways- but that doesn’t make you any better than anyone else. To realize that we, all of humanity, shares more in likeness with one another than difference. To realize that if you “made it”- if you “succeeded”- it has always been on the backs of others either supporting you and moving forward with you, or others you stepped on and pushed down to get to where you are.

Be an agent of good in the world. Please. So more of us can work toward that undefined destination of “making it.” Cultivate a heart of empathy, so you are more aware of the suffering of those around you. So no one feels alone in this world.

Song: The Last of My Kind by Jason Isbell


I couldn't be happy in the city at night

You can't see the stars for the neon light

Sidewalk's dirty and the river's worse

The underground trains all run in reverse

Nobody here can dance like me

Everybody's clapping on the one and the three

Am I the last of my kind?

Am I the last of my kind?

So many people with so much to do

The winter's so cold my hands turn blue

Old men sleeping on the filthy ground

They spend their whole day just walking around

Nobody else here seems to care

They walk right past them like they ain't even there

Am I the last of my kind?

Am I the last of my kind?

Daddy said the river would always lead me home

But the river can't take me back in time

And daddy's dead and gone

The family farm's a parking lot for Walton's five and dime

Am I the last of my kind?

Am I the last of my kind?

I tried to go to college but I didn't belong

Everything I said was either funny or wrong

They laughed at my boots, laughed at my jeans

Laughed when they gave me amphetamines

Left me alone in a bad part of town

Thirty-six hours to come back down

Am I the last of my kind?

Am I the last of my kind?

Mama says God won't give you too much to bear

That might be true in Arkansas

But I'm a long, long way from there

That whole world's a lonely, faded picture in my mind

Am I the last of my kind?

Until Tomorrow- Peace

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