The Power of Empathy

Three days before I flew out to run the St. Jude’s Half Marathon in Memphis I was fired from my job. After 9 years and 11 months I was fired at 1:30 on a Tuesday.  While I was completely blindsided at the time, looking back I’d seen the writing on the wall–and heard it my soul.  I just conveniently didn’t listen.  After working on PCI compliance for a year, I’d just been brought into the newly created position of Compliance Administrator, received my certification as a PCI Professional and was looking forward to diving deep into security policies and procedures.  It wasn’t to be.  Our visions were very different.  I wanted to be mad, to feel outraged or wronged.  But all I felt was relief.

I suppose I was still in shock and denial when, doning my St. Jude’s Hero tee shirt, I crossed the starting line of the St. Jude’s half marathon a few days later. I ran as a St. Jude’s Hero, raising $532.18 towards the cause, but gave little thought to what that meant. I planned on spending two and a half hours thinking about the blog I’d start and the consulting company I want to get off the ground. I wondered if I’d get a personal record for my time, though I doubted it.  I thought I had plenty of time to put my life in order as I plodded along the 13.1 mile course.

The first bib that took my breath away read:  “I run in memory of my daughter, RYAN”.  The runner wore a purple shirt and she was a few years younger than me. The thought of my own daughter, her beautiful smile and bright future, flashed before me. When I passed Ryan’s mom on the course I touched her shoulder and said, “Bless you.” I didn’t know what else to say.  I was humbled, I was devistated, I was in awe. Selfishly I think I was blessing her for taking on so such pain so I didn’t have to.  She smiled and thanked me for running.  It’s the least I could do.  Throughout the course people thanked me for running, thanked me for being a hero.  All I could think was, “You are the real heroes.  You still keep going day after day.  I just raised a little money…”

The rest of the race I read every bib and felt my heart break a little more.  I ached for them, for everyone who has lost a child (or loved one) and still goes on.  Just as a half marathon or a marathon demands you push through the pain and keep going no matter what, I saw their resolution to keep going. To put one foot in front of the other and keep moving.  It can be a struggle on both accounts; the race and life.  I knew I couldn’t stop.  I couldn’t slow down or give up.  It was about something more now.  With every ache I thought of it as taking just a little of their pain on myself. How glorious it would be if we could do that…if we could somehow distribute in the pain across everyone so it could be more tolerable for us all!

I didn’t spend the race thinking about my future.  I didn’t think about finding a new job or blog posts or business plans as I passed mile after mile. It really didn’t matter anymore. I thought about how you can train and prepare for a race all you want, but life is a free-for-all.  No training, no preparation in the world can make losing a child (or watching them suffer) easier. I thought about losing my mom to cancer and how the words “they found a spot on my lung” changed my life forever.  I realized this race isn’t about me and my performance. It’s about everyone on the course and everyone cheering on the sidelines.  Everyone has a different reason to be here, a different goal and purpose.  And every one of them is important. It was about every single child, parent, friend or relative suffering in the world.  It was about coming together with humanity to show empathy and take on just a little of the pain.

When I wear my race shirt I’m not going to be boasting about finishing a half marathon. I’ll be boasting about my part in humanity. A reminder that we’re in this world together and together we’ll finish strong.

PS. Please consider giving to St. Jude’s.  My personal fundraising page is still open through January 2018 and you can find it here.  You can also donate directly here.


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