A lesson in empathy

I woke early this morning and when I realized that it was futile to keep trying to go back to sleep, I got up. The house was still dark and cold. I fumbled for my robe, wrapped and belted it tightly around me and went to the kitchen to make coffee.  Soon its fragrant aroma filled the room as it bubbled and dripped steadily into the pot. While it finished brewing, I headed back to the bedroom for my glasses to read the newspaper before work.

I got as far as as the living room when the ground began to vibrate beneath my feet and the sound of an ominous rumble came from outside.  We had snow  yesterday and at first I thought a snow plough was steamrolling down the street.  But I soon realized this was no truck; this was an earthquake. The cat, who had been frozen in place on the arm of the couch, jumped down and started to run for safety. But the poor thing didn’t know what the danger was or where it was coming from.  After a few false starts, she ran to the basement.  I’d always heard you should take cover beneath a doorjamb during an earthquake. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I opened the door to the closest room in the hallway and stood beneath its jamb. The sound intensified for a few seconds and after a loud cracking sound, it stopped as suddenly as it had started.

I waited to see if my husband, who was still in bed, would come find us, but he slept through the whole thing. I ran to my computer and logged onto local news sites.  Sure enough, within a few minutes, there was a post by Earthquakes Canada (who knew there was a federal department called Earthquakes Canada?):

Automatic detection of seismic event: magnitude 4.2 – 13 Jan 5:38 EST – SALABERRY-DE-VALLEYFIELD, QC region

I think I was given a refresher lesson in empathy. Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the earthquake that killed more than 230,000 people in Haiti. The radio station my husband listens to had non-stop, talk-radio shows about the anniversary and I admit to getting bored with it.  I admire this proud people who lost parents, children, friends and more, who lived in and with destruction all around them and who, despite all  this,  strived to rebuild. But, a little voice in my head was saying, “It was ten years ago. What can we do now, especially that much of the funds raised to help rebuild the country were appropriated by corrupt officials?”

The quake I experienced was tiny in comparison but it gave me renewed respect for what the Haitian people went through. It lasted only a few seconds, killed no one and destroyed nothing. But those few seconds were frightening.

The Haiti earthquake was a 7.0 magnitude that lasted more than 30 seconds! That had to seem like forever when the ground is literally violently shaking beneath your feet and everything around you is crumbling.

It’s natural that we identify more easily to things when we have a personal connection. And as someone who works for a charity, I know there are many worthwhile causes and we can’t support them all. But I learned today that it costs nothing to have a little empathy.

10 thoughts on “A lesson in empathy

  1. When the last large earthquake hit our home in Oregon my husband ran out of the house in his undies screaming “earthquake!” The rest of us stayed in bed. It has become the favorite story for our grandchildren. You are right that empathy costs nothing and is always appropriate(except maybe not for my husband that day!)


  2. I think we take in so much news that we tend to not think about it much until something like this happens to us personally. It’s a scary thing (unless you sleep through it) but it can teach lessons. Great lesson!


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