Posts Tagged ‘sympathy’


October 23, 2009 5 comments

Pierce had a tough day Tuesday, poor guy. It started as a routine circumcision, but when his blood wouldn’t clot, it turned into a trip to the ER and an overnight stay in the hospital. No fun at all. But this post isn’t about Pierce’s tough day. It’s about a sort of epiphany I had during his supposedly routine procedure that started it all.


Going in to the clinic Tuesday morning, I was all geared up to be in the room and witness my tough guy’s painful moment. When we got there the pediatrician informed us that typically parents aren’t in the room with their child when the procedure is being done (unless they insist).

We didn’t insist. Instead, we waited. And while we were waiting I was reflecting on the curious fact that parents can handle the whole ordeal better if they are in another room just 30 feet down the hall. Parents still know what is going on, but it’s just easier for parents (and, consequently, doctors) if the parents don’t hear the crying and see the tears of their child.

I’ve often been intrigued at this curious relationship between proximity and sympathy. I suppose that if we were on the outside looking in on the human race, it would strike us as rather strange to know that humans will hurt less for other humans if they don’t personally witness these people’s pain. Odd, isn’t it? Yet as insiders to the human experience, we know how normal this weird relationship between proximity and sympathy really is.

As a minister, I notice this all the time, and it constantly baffles me. I’ll hear of a death and will hurt for the family…but invariably I’ll hurt immeasurably more when I attend the funeral and see the hurt firsthand. I’ll hear of a person receiving a dreaded diagnosis and will feel sadness…but not as much as I’ll feel when I enter that family’s home and see the fear and anxiety on their faces. I’ll hear that one of our church members is in the hospital and will sympathize with them…but when I open the door to their hospital room I also open the door to a yet untouched part of my heart.

This proximity-sympathy phenomenon carries more than mere intrigue for me. It carries with it a challenge. It’s a compelling reason for us to hurry to the side of the one who is hurting. Why? Because our presence will do more than communicate our concern to them. It will increase our concern for them.

I guess you could say: you have to see it to bereave it.

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