Imagined Empathy

I’m typing these words wearing a neck brace and feeling a sharp pain in the center of my back, between my plates. It’s hard to put that pain away and concentrate on what I want to say, but I’m used to pain so I carry on.

I used the first day to think about it. I was waiting for my body to get over it and let me carry on with my life, but at the same time I was mesmerized at how much I depend on my body to function normally.

I looked weird. I had to look at people from the top of my glasses or spy on everyone from the corner of my eye. Interesting that all it took was sleeping in the wrong position for whatever time one night, to be down with an overwhelming condition.

What mesmerized me came from the same basic instinct that makes people stare at a traffic accident on the highway. Look at that guy’s leg. Wait, why is everyone slowing down? People are so awful… Can you see him? That leg’s all twisted. He totally broke it!  — What makes us stare is not bent metal or blood, but the quickness of how fast-flowing traffic can transform and twist into a car crash, and how bad can it be. The same way that what makes us look too long at an abnormal body didn’t grew from malice, but mirroring. The thoughts What made the Treeman and how can we fix him? How is a day in his life? What is he feeling right now? are all the questions that come after we open up to empathy, but our first automatic thought is And how much worse can it get?

On the second day, after the drugs took effect, I knew I was moving more than I should because when I did a sharp pain would tell me I moved too far — there was no in-between pain anymore, just excruciating red alerts that seem to come out of no-where. My first thought was not How can I get better but instead, Pain killers are scary. I wasn’t scared of being confined to small movements anymore, I was scared of loosing all sense of how bad could it get. I was frustrated. By taking pain-killers I had given up the premium seat to stare at my body’s slow decay, to own it, to have this unrealistic feeling that I could control it.

When we watch those Real-Life ER TV Shows, we’re not hungry for how soon someone can get better, that comes after, first we want to feed this dark hunger of how bad can it get. But maybe it’s not that dark, maybe we’re simply feeding our personal archives with the things we haven’t had to go through and preparing ourselves for the unexpected twist in our paths. Or maybe, imagining how worse another human can get is actually our innate gift to empathy; a humanizing trait shared when we try to imagine what it’s like to feel afraid of something we have no control over.


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