Noah Knows No Empathy

25 May 2018

“Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see.”

Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams: Essays

I had trouble getting out of bed this morning. This has been a recurring theme for more than a couple of months. It should be setting off warning bells but I tell myself that I’m dealing with it. There’s yoga, a run, Noah’s walk, work, guitar lessons. I believe all of these will keep me from sinking deeper. Skipped meals and accompanying fatigue are all too familiar. I could have written an entire essay lying in bed this morning. The sentences were complete. There was grammar, just as there was an aching restlessness, lightheadedness and painfully acute senses. I remind myself that I need to keep moving, like a shark. To be still is to succumb.

Books are my barometer. I consider myself doing fairly well when I can read. There’s something wrong if I’m unable to hold a book for more than a couple of minutes. I have had sporadic reading spells this year. I carry my current book everywhere hoping to catch a window of clarity. I try to deal in a myriad ways, the myriad forms of my bipolar. I have to co-adapt to keep up, like a never-ending arms race. Stripped off all the societal underpinnings, it is still a crude adapt-or-perish situation and it is always something you deal with, alone, in the deepest, darkest recesses that nobody else can reach.

My best bet so far though, is a furry armour that protects from the hardest blows, even if it lets minor ones through. Like the bipolar I have come to recognize and accept for nearly 8 years, Noah has been my constant shadow over the last three (+) years. There are days when we do little apart from sleep. Other days we run together. He keeps me from getting tossed around too hard, and then extracts his fee in the form of walks, belly rubs and treats. His demands are little compared to what he gives. Our place (which I mostly refer to as his), is the centre of gravity for a small community of friends who mostly come to be pampered and spoken to in his strange tongue we don’t understand, and yet we do. His is the language that cuts straight to the heart, with no room for awkward moments. He is empathy and he does not know it. Maybe it does not matter to him. That I’m pretty sure. We have a constant conversation running at times, and I wouldn’t be lying if I said I have spoken more with him than with fellow humans over the last three years. He (his kind) evolved to be there, be it by the campfire, guarding precious livestock, or out hunting with you – always looking out for you. It’s in his blood. We are not hardwired, we struggle with it. At least the most of us.

The rain is drumming down outside as I write this, and after putting up a show Noah has finally eaten. Today, I’m like a dog with a bone, I feel like writing. Noah is asleep close by, there’s Knopfler on the airwaves, it is raining outside, there’s a mug of coffee and there’s little else I would ask for at this moment. Maybe I’ll skip dinner again. Today is one of the better days. I sometimes worry that we might be after the novelty that comes with trying something new and exciting, without realizing it. A weekend project, a feel-good activity, a refreshing break from hectic work-life perhaps? There’s little doubt that the creative juices are in no short supply to fuel the project, but I wonder if there’s the heart to do it. Yet. Maybe that’s something that will grow. Maybe only the seasons will tell. Maybe I’m completely wrong. But I know there’s more I can do.

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