IMAGINE Magazine-Spring2016 - Page 24

myself vulnerable to someone else’s experience. I discovered humility when I look at a homeless man begging for “anything helps” at an intersection, and that I have no idea what that person is dealing with. They are still human, just like me. I may not completely share or understand their feelings or experience, but I still honor them. Tentropolis allowed me to give up the right to know someone’s story at first glance. I discovered an access to love. Therein lies a dilemma, and the next transformation in my relationship to empathy. Tentropolis was six years ago, and I can’t always undergo a week-long simulation to “stand in another’s moccasins,” as my mother would say. It’s also easier—and safer— to show empathy to a stranger. Even now as I embark on a career in Assisted Living and Memory Care, caring for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, which requires a high level of empathy, I cannot, nor do I want to “understand or share” the feelings of my residents. I cannot locate myself in their brains; honestly that terrifies me. Yet I still possess an extraordinary ability to be with my residents’ feelings, without making them wrong for that which is no longer in their control. Do I get frustrated? Absolutely. Am I always the beacon of empathy, grace, and patience? No. Sometimes I turn off my empathy to avoid being a puddle on the floor. So my next step: having empathy unconditionally for the people I love the most, and being empathic towards the people who scare me.  We begin as total strangers... by Rabbi Bernie Kling A s a Sedona Rabbi and chaplain, my greatest experiences of empathy have taken place in hospital and hospice chaplaincy situations. When I walk into the hospital room of a patient I have not met before, I know little about them— just their name, their age, and their admission date. Beyond that they are a blank slate to me, just as I am to them. We begin as total strangers. My immediate goal is to close this gap between us as quickly as possible. I tell them my name, that I am the chaplain on duty, and ask them whether they would like a visit or a prayer. If they say neither, I understand.—Sometimes I don’t want to deal with an uninvited stranger who appears on my doorstep with the kindest of intentions either. Why should a hospital patient be expected to do so? If the patient invites me in, a deeper connection begins. At times they just want a prayer and a blessing, but usually they want to talk to me about their lives—especially when 24 IMAGINE l SPRING 2016 they can feel how much I love to listen. And as I am old enough to have had a great variety of life experiences, our stories often cross paths, and we learn that we have both encountered many similar people, relationships and situations in our past. This gets a wonderful process of mutual empathy going without either of us really having to work at it. We can feel both the love and loss that we have each experienced in our lives—because they are fundamentally the same. One holiday night I was called to the bedside of a man whose struggle for breath was just about over. His wife lay curled around him in bed, unable to let go, even though both she and his children knew it was time for him to let go. I—chanted two psalms over him in Hebrew. Even though he appeared unconscious, his breathing became more rapid and his eyes began rolling behind closed lids. It seemed the ancient words were getting through on some deep s \]X[][ ][\Bݙ\Y]Y[YH[X] H[[\]H܈\[\BYY[[Y\]X]\HHY]\Y]\[و^H[]]\Y\[[YH܈X] [H[[\]H܈\[Z[BX]\Hو[H[Y\^Hۈ[Z[HYY[\وH[Z[\X]] Hۛ]Z][܈B[\ZK]8&\HZ[[[ۙXY]X][ۋ[H۸&][[\ݙYۙHX]K[Y][H۸&][[HY\[Hۙ\[H[\Y[[H\Y]\\H\H[HXX[^Y\^H[ZHYHX]K'XK8'H^HZY 8'[HZY[H^Y\]\HYYY 'HHYܝHY\\Y\HۛܙYHZ\\ۜKH^[ܛ[^H[Y›]YHۛZ\]\Y\Y B[\YHXH\X\]BۘHYZ[[\Hܚˈ[]][[\]H\H[ݙHY\^\[XX\YK܈YK]8&\]]8&\[X]