"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in empathy (1)


Longing for Snow



As I walked to my favorite café there was a light rain that seemed to want to turn to snow. I wanted it to turn to snow. But it wasn't in the mood.

While waiting for salmon and risotto with mushrooms, I read Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams. It’s a series of essays that examines pain, in people with Morgellan’s disease; Bolivian miners; ex-gang members in Watts and Silverlake, Los Angeles; women with eating disorders and women who cut themselves; addicts; and most compellingly, herself when she is punched in the nose and robbed in Nicaragua. Jamison’s gift, I think is less a fresh approach to empathy (some of the essays feel like catastrophe tourism) than it is a fresh approach to language and especially to the structure of an essay. I was most interested in her citing of Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale, a map of sorts for storytelling, with 31 structural units of story, which she shuffles in unexpected ways in her essay about Nicaragua and her nose.

After dinner, I caught up on my daybook, my daily mandala of the twelve realms, for envisioning and reviewing the focus and balance of each day.


Around me were couples, all but one speaking French. I noticed a typical pattern and one that was atypical. Typical: the woman does most of the talking, and the man seems half present, nearly mute. In one case, the man had little opportunity to talk, since half of the woman’s conversation was spoken into her cell phone.

Another older couple, in their 70s perhaps, was startling in that the woman had the voice of a little girl, the man the voice of an indulgent Daddy.

The couple I enjoyed most were in their 40s or 50s, had rich voices, musical and intelligent, but what I liked best was the rhythm of their talk and her laughter. They were both lively talkers, playing verbal tennis. That ball got thwocked from one side of the net to the other and back, in a rousing game.

The waitress hovered, wanting to get a closer look at what I was drawing and coloring in my Moleskin. I tipped the page up for privacy.



And then two men sat down next to me who spoke French with a Provençal accent in voices so loud, I jumped when the younger one spoke. They were discussing women and money and Paris. Women were better older, they agreed. Paris hotels were too expensive, unless you rent the room by the week. And Paris has too many foreigners now, especially Muslims. They continued on, and I thought how nationalism is really just one country, the land of Xenophobia, and it seems to be inhabited by the shallow and the dumb.



I paid and walked out into a light rain. Rain that was growing a body. Rain that was slipping on a lacy white dress. I held up my hand to the sky. Snow? Snow! Snow! Two men in a nearby market grinned. I remembered standing in the doorway of the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts, seeing snow for the first time in my early 30s, a man with whom I was beginning to fall in love standing in the doorway behind me.

You’ve never seen snow? he said. 


It still fills me with wonder.